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St. Ann Church in Clayton Celebrates 75th Anniversary

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On Saturday, July 24th, St. Ann Catholic Church in Clayton celebrated its 75th anniversary with a Mass of Thanksgiving offered by the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh. Concelebrating the Mass were several of the priests who have pastored St. Ann: Msgr. Michael G. Clay, the current Pastor, as well as former pastors Fr. Robert F. Shea, Fr. Paul W. Brant, S.J., Fr. Scott E. McCue, and Msgr. Francis R. Moeslein. Also concelebrating was Fr. James F. Garneau, Dean of the Newton Grove Deanery. 

The parish of St. Ann first took root in Smithfield, where a few staunch Catholic families worshipped as early as 1854, when the Henry B. Watson family hosted Mass in their farmhouse.

In the early 20th century, Smithfield and neighboring Selma had become a center for Lebanese Catholics. In 1915, a small chapel named St. Peter’s was built in Smithfield for $845, and the community was designated a mission. In 1935, Mrs. Mary Doyle of Boston gave $5,000 for a church to be built in honor of St. Ann. That church was in Smithfield. The Catholic population was never large, though. Seven years after the construction of St. Ann, there were 24 Catholics in Smithfield, 17 in Selma and 2 in Clayton.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, St. Ann Parish saw substantial growth via migration from both the south and the north. First, a large number of Latin Americans began moving into Johnston County, at first as seasonal workers to help harvest the tobacco crop, and then as permanent residents. Then Pastor (1977-91) Fr. Joseph F. Lynn, O.S.F.S., a pioneer in Hispanic ministry in the Diocese, added a Spanish Mass in 1989, celebrated each week at a drive-in theater on Hwy. 301.

At the same time, the Clayton area became a popular destination for new residents, many of them Catholic, from other parts of the U.S. In 1993 overflow congregations worshipped via closed circuit TV in the parish hall; in 1996, a weekly Mass was offered in the Clayton High School.

Eventually the parish purchased 14 acres of land in Johnston County. In 1998, under the pastoral leadership of Fr. Joseph Mulroney, St. Ann counted some 500 registered families, and a successful capital campaign raised more than $1.5 million in pledges for a new church. On June 30, 2002, Bishop F. Joseph Gossman dedicated the present St. Ann Church.

In his homily at the anniversary Mass, Bishop Burbidge said, “We rejoice in remembering the countless number of people who have encountered and experienced the love of God in your parish throughout the years.

 “The celebration of a parish anniversary,” he continued “is also a grace-filled moment for us as a parish community to renew our promises and our commitment to continue the great works of the Lord as we remain faithful to all that He asks of us.”

A parish picnic followed the anniversary Mass.

Above: Fr. James F. Garneau, V.F., (left) Dean of Newton Grove Deanery and former pastors of St. Ann Church: Msgr. Francis R. Moeslein; Fr. Scott E. McCue; Fr. Paul W. Brant, S.J.; and Fr. Robert F. Shea at 75th anniversary Mass at St. Ann, Clayton.

Above: Members of the Knights of Columbus, who served as Honor Guard at Mass of Thanksgiving.

Above: Clergy from other Christian denominations in Johnson County attending the anniversary Mass.

Above: Msgr. Michael Clay, pastor of St. Ann Church.