Friday, April 29, 2016


Although the community described below is west of Augusta, the history it describes is almost identical to Augusta's Catholic history of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity. Most Holy Trinity's new church dates to an 1857 groundbreaking and the naming of French St. Vincent de Paul as Most Holy Trinity's patronal saint  by its former pastor of 30 years but then second Bishop of Savannah, John Barry who today is buried in the crypt of the church with about 12 other priests.

However, like The Church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Sharon, Georgia, Most Holy Trinity's beginnings are in the late 1700's as well with French settlers coming to the area to escape the French Revolution in France. They are the same group but spread out. Most Holy Trinity's original church building on the same property as the new (but torn down) dates to 1810.  Both the Sharon Church and the original Most Holy Trinity are almost identical.

However, between its original naming of French St. Vincent de Paul and the dedication of the new Church in 1863, Bishop Barry had died and the ascendancy of the Irish who began to take over the parish in the 1840's was capped by the dethroning and humiliation of the French Saint Vincent de Paul whose large iron statue was removed and destroyed and buried behind the church. The Irish Saint Patrick was crowned the patron saint of Most Holy Trinity and popularly called St. Patrick Catholic Church until 1971 when it original and canonical name was used once again after the merger of three parishes into Most Holy Trinity.

But here's the story of what some say is the oldest Catholic community in Georgia, but Augusta and this community are closely linked:

Sharon, GA --  The Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta, will conduct a special groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 4:30 p.m. in Sharon to mark the formal start of restorations to the Church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Georgia’s first Catholic Church.

The Church of the Purification dates from 1790, when a small band of English Catholics from Baltimore arrived in what is now Taliaferro County to set up a farming community.   They built a simple log cabin church.   With the death of some of the settlers in 1794, they established a cemetery next to it.   The community came to be known as Locust Grove.

French Catholics fleeing the revolution in their country soon joined them. Later, Irish settlers came, including the ancestors of famed authors Margaret Mitchell and Flannery O’Connor.  Sometime between 1818 and 1821 the Sisters of St. Joseph, a French order, arrived and established the first Catholic school in Georgia, chartered as Locust Grove Academy.   Three future governors of Georgia were educated there.

In 1821, the original log church was replaced by a larger wood frame structure.  By 1840, Locust Grove was the center of Catholic life in Georgia. (My comment: This is a bit of a stretch or hyperbole as Augusta by 1840 was the center of Catholic life in Georgia, not Locust Grove and Augusta's new Church begun by the Second Bishop of Georgia, John Barry who had been pastor of Most Holy Trinity in the 1840's designed the new church to eventually become the cathedral. However, divisiveness of the Irish and the ascendancy of trustee-ism in American Catholicism in the 1860's derailed that dream! Augusta was a hotbed of trustee-ism in America of that period.)

In later years, with the establishment of a railroad line two miles to the west, the growth of the new community of Sharon and the movement of settlers to better farming opportunities elsewhere, Locust Grove gradually died away.   In 1877, the Church of the Purification relocated to Sharon.   The wood frame church was dismantled for the move.

In 1883, a new church was built.(My comment: Most Holy Trinity in Augusta's new church was built in 1857 and still stands completely restored today as a vibrant downtown parish)   It is this structure that stands in disrepair today in Sharon.

With the formation of a Friends group in 2012, a campaign to promote the history of the Church of the Purification and to raise funds for its restoration was launched.  Phase One of the restorations will encompass significant structural enhancements to the building’s foundation and roof system, including the bell tower. The existing roof will be replaced and the original 12 over 12 double hung wood windows will be restored to operable condition. The electrical and mechanical systems will also be evaluated and upgraded as appropriate.

The immediate goal of the campaign is to restore the Church to its 1883 appearance and enable its use once again for liturgical services. The longer term goal is to develop the Church of the Purification into a heritage destination and retreat center with regular services and programs.

Media is welcome.

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rcg said...

Just an idea: if the goal is to restore the church to its 1880 appearance, and it is relatively small, has the Diocese considered allowing the FSSP to have it?

TJM said...

Looks like the Church in the top photos escaped being "Vosko-ized?"

Domingo said...

The FSSP has offered to send two priests to the Savannah Diocese this year ( in fact this summer) if the Bishop of Savannah will allow them in. The Bishop was contacted and a letter writing campaign was undertaken asking the Bishop to accept the offer. The Bishop has decided not to ask them into the Savannah Diocese. The FSSP has already been invited into two other Dioceses for 2016. They will ordain over 30 priests (this doesn't include the European seminary) in the next 3 years. Hopefully one day the Bishop will change his mind and allow them into set up a personal parish.

TJM said...

Is the Bishop worried it will upset the left-wing loons masquerading as Catholic priests?