On November 20, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge and members of St. Mary Parish in Mt. Olive, NC, broke ground for a new church. The church will be the first building funded, in part, by the Diocesan Home Mission Society, which Bishop Burbidge established in 2007 to support the construction and furnishing of mission churches and chapels in the mission areas of the Diocese of Raleigh.
The Home Mission Society places special emphasis on building churches and chapels in areas where the parishioners, because of economic circumstance, are not able to fund the construction of sacred worship space in the traditional manner of capital campaigns, bank loans, and parish savings. The Society will fund 25 percent of the estimated $1.2 million total cost of the new church.
The new building is overdue. The current church seats 85 people. St. Mary was formed in 1916 as a mission of St. Mary in Goldsboro. Its little wooden chapel looked like many others in North Carolina towns of the time. In 1947 it was burned, allegedly by the Ku Klux Klan to protest the wedding there of two African-Americans. Parishioners immediately rebuilt their church in brick, but some charred timbers from the original structure remain.
Over the years, responsibility for the mission was switched to Newton Grove and then to Clinton. In 1998, St. Mary became a parish in its own right, reflecting the recognition by the Diocese of a profound demographic change in the area. Migrant workers, who had populated the area seasonally for many years, were more and more becoming immigrants, settling permanently with their families in the counties of Duplin, Wayne, Samson and Lenoir.
The administrators and pastors of St. Mary saw the evangelization of this new population as an urgent necessity. Through their efforts, the parish at one point supported three missions of its own.
The new church, which will rest on 14 acres of land off Highway 117, will seat nearly 300 people. Stained glass windows have been recovered from the old St. Thomas More Church in Chapel Hill. An important feature of the new church will be that it is entirely devoted to worship space. “Our people are in love with the sacred ambience of their little chapel,” Fr. James Garneau, Pastor of St. Mary, said. “They don’t want a multi-purpose building.” Fr. Garneau believes the new church will be important in establishing “a strong, clear presence of Jesus Christ in the community; a strong church where people can receive Jesus and take Him home and proclaim Him.”
The groundbreaking ceremony took place on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Bishop Burbidge began the day by celebrating Mass at St. Mary in English at the current church, then celebrating a second Mass in Spanish at the Mount Olive College chapel, followed by the groundbreaking ceremony. Fr. Garneau was the concelebrant for both Masses and homilist at the Spanish Mass. On weekends, St. Mary celebrates two English Masses and three Spanish Masses. The 10:30am Sunday Mass in Spanish is held at the Mt. Olive College Chapel to accommodate the large congregation.
Above: The present St. Mary Church in Mt. Olive, built in the late 1940s, with a seating capacity of 85.
Above: Bishop Michael F. Burbidge greeting parishioners following the celebration of Mass at Mt. Olive College chapel, the location for the weekly Sunday Hispanic Mass.
Above: Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Father James F. Garneau, Pastor of St. Mary Church at the site of the new church on Highway 117 for groundbreaking ceremony.