Friday, November 14, 2014


A friend of mine sent me this blog from a priest in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, an archdiocese whose heyday was when it was a part of the Diocese of Savannah. Ever since it broke away from the mother diocese in a bloodless war between the dioceses it remains a second rate diocese compared to Savannah. But I digress! I don't know  Fr. Gaurav Shroff  but I thank him for highlighting Macon's Jesuit past. The Jesuits departed Macon in the late 1950's turning over the "Jewel of the South" to the Diocese of Savannah and its fine priests. You can read Fr. Shroff's blog HERE.

A Catholic seminary in Macon?

Parishioner Pete Konekamp, a veteran radio journalist, shared this on Facebook earlier today. It's posted here with his permission. A fascinating tidbit of Georgia Catholic history:

[Photo courtesy Pete Konekamp]
Throwback Thursday takes a detour off the main road and deep into the woods of north Macon. There, in the woods off Forest Hill Road, is more Georgia history you never knew.

In the late 1800's, Jesuit priests operated a seminary off a street in Macon named for Pope Pius IX. Pio Nono Avenue. The seminary, originally called Pio Nono College was dedicated in 1873. 

Renamed St. Stanislaus College, it burned to the ground in 1921. With that, all traces of the seminary disappeared. Or did they? The Jesuits established a retreat site on what was then, a hundred acres of pristine Georgia woodland. The retreat had a swimming pool, a path on which to pray the Stations of the Cross and statues of the saints. Only one statue, of St. Peter, remains. It was toppled by vandals years ago and its head shattered. 

In the early 20th century, the land was purchased by North Winship, US Ambassador to South Africa. Winship lovingly preserved the site. On his death in 1965, the property fell into ruin and Winship's house was destroyed by fire. On the site there is a graffiti covered grotto, that once held a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The grotto remains, as slowly but surely, this once beautiful piece of history fades from view. Adjacent to it, is an apartment complex. It is surrounded by houses and consumed by vegetation. There is an effort underway to save the grotto but it hasn't gained much traction.

I first wrote about the grotto 40 years ago. The only thing that's changed in all that time, is the site has continued to deteriorate. If you are so inclined, see it while you can. Fall is the best time to visit, because the vegetation has died off and the insects and snakes are in hiding.

[Photo courtesy Pete Konekamp]
Doing some digging around the Interwebs, I found a reference to a little report in the New York Times from May 3, 1874 (PDF available online for free), on the ceremony where the corner-stone was laid for Pio Nono College, saying that the college would be the largest Catholic college in the South. It describes the procession as containing the Bishop of Savannah, priests, the Mayor and councilmen and twenty five religious, civil and military organizations, and a huge crowd! I always wondered where Pio Nono Avenue (pronounced by the locals as "pie-o nono"!)  in Macon came from. (Actually we pronounce it: pie ah no na)

Of course the jewel of Catholic Macon is St. Joseph Church, also built by the Jesuits. [Sadly, I simply cannot picture the SJs building anything quite so beautiful today ... ]. That deserves another post, perhaps after a new visit to this stunningly beautiful church ...(Actually, St. Joseph's is the "Jewel of the south" and "if these wall could talk, they would sing")


qwikness said...

Also, from I have been told, Vineville Baptist Church, had the city change the name of the street from Pio Nono to Pierce Ave because they did not want to be on a road named after a pope

qwikness said...

This retreat is really the coolest thing in Macon. I "discovered" it when visiting my grandmother at her apartment when I was 12 or 14. It is a HUGE vast ravine, bowl type area with a trail that wanders around the edge. There are stone bridges that lead to the Mary Shrine. There is a chimney and small cavern made of stone on another stone bridge to view area below. I have found the toppled statue of St. Peter but at the time could not tell who it was. I found and the foundation of the pool. Back then I thought it was a pool but decided it was too old for them to have pools. I thought it was a foundation to a building. It had little trees and vegetationgrowing in it. The entire area is not falling apart in my opinion, just old. The place is great in the fall or after a snow. The trail is covered in leaves or snow and one can see deep into the bowl of the wooded ravine below. Trees have fallen across the trail making it sometimes hard to traverse. I always wondered if it was Catholic but reckoned that it was Episcopalian since St. Francis Episcopal Church is across the street.

Unknown said...

*Where* is this place? At this point, it's become an urban legend of sorts, much like the 'caves and tunnels' underneath Rose Hill cemetery, where 'devil worshippers' were once said to do whatever it is 'devil worshippers' do.

Needless to say, I've never seen evidence of occult activities taking place there, but I did once find an eggplant left on the 'porch' of one of the mausoleums.

Templar said...

This link will bring you to the most comprehensive collection of information on "the Grotto" that I've ever come across, it includes dozens of photos and a youtube video by the person trying to organize it's restoration.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the grotto link.
Gotta find it!


Fr. Gaurav Shroff said...

Fr. Macdonald: I'm honored to be linked from this venerable blog! And indeed ... both our dioceses' heyday was in those seminal days when we were all part of the Diocese of Charleston! :-)

[As to current heydays -- well, more people are moving into our territory than yours. We keep crowing about it, as if it were our achievement, when it is simple economics and demographics. The result is our clergy is horribly overworked. A few spare prayers for your laboring northern brethren [ha!] would be gratefully welcome.]

Thanks to these comments with more information on the Grotto -- I'll incorporate these into my post anon. And thank you for the correction on the pronunciation of "Pio Nono." I was trying to remember how Fr. Brett Brannen said it ... :)

I am long over due to visit Macon (especially now, since your seminarian is a friend of mine from my days at the Mount), in which case, I look forward to making your acquaintance in person.

And, yes, St. Joseph is truly, truly beautiful. Even a photograph of it makes my heart sing.

Oremus pro invicem.

qwikness said...

When I go there, I park in the what used to be Winship apartments on Forest Hill in their parking lot. Just after the Prado drive. I pull into apartment drive and take a right and park on the hill. There is a concrete drainage, gutter type thing that works great as a sidewalk and entrance. It leads into the woods. Once in the woods a trail leads around to the right and around the basin of the Grotto. Half way around it is the Chimeny and Marian shrine. Also from the entrance of the woods, If you go left and down the hill you would find the pool. It is so overgrown it might not be easy to spot. The toppled statue is also to the left, close to the edge of the woods, not really close to anything.
I don't suppose any devil stuff happens there. but I am sure teenagers drink and smoke and whatnot.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I agree with you about the primacy of the Savannah diocese :). I live in Athens now after years in ATL and still wish we could move the line enough to include Athens in what I consider my home diocese. I was baptized at St. Joseph's in Macon and my family roots are in Columbus. I went to School in Savannah and worked two summers at Camp Villa Marie. But I digress --

Today in doing genealogical research I uncovered a link that, though tenuous, tells me that we may be related to Fr. Thomas Francis Cleary who was a professor at Pio Nono College (at the age of 20). This info is from census data and I also saw in the same record that another relative from Charleston, Paul Truche, was a boarding student there at the age of 16. All very interesting. I had no idea that the school existed, so now I have something else interesting to research!