Church of St. Joseph: Oldest Catholic Church in North Carolina

It was a pleasure to attend Holy Mass at St. Joseph's in Mt. Holly, North Carolina.  This delightfully charming little church is the oldest standing Catholic church in the state.  The original church building is still in existence, made of wood by Irish farmers and gold miners in 1843.  It was originally the fourth Catholic church built in North Carolina.  Today it is still going strong as a testament of faith.  In the early years the priest lived in the sacristy, still depicted today to show people what pioneer life was like.  The tabernacle is interesting in design, depicting a mini-church in Carpenter Gothic style.    

The church is nestled amid picturesque holly trees with an old stone wall around the church yard and a church cemetery accessed through an old gate.  The story of the community began in 1830 when a group of pioneer immigrants from Ireland settled in the area, west of the town of Charlotte.  Land was cheap and there were gold mines along the Catawba River that drew them to the rural area.  Mass was first celebrated in the home of Chevalier Riva de Finola, a local owner of gold mines along the same river.  

When the mines closed in 1835 and Riva de Finola departed, the faithful were left without a place to celebrate the Sacraments.  Meanwhile, a priest from Charlotte still came to minister to the Gaston County mission while Mass was celebrated in private homes.  The community longed for their own permanent home, a proper church to worship in.    

The original bedroom of the priest in the sacristy.

In 1841 a few acres of land were donated and construction of St. Joseph's began, built by parishioners themselves who came from near and far.  Within two years the church was constructed from donations mainly from Charlotte and the bishop came to dedicate the new structure in 1843.  Finally, the community had a proper church and an altar.  You can imagine their joy when above the altar the pastor had inscribed the words: "Habemus Altare" ("We have an altar").  Because the church is antebellum, it also has some Civil War history -- according to local lore at one point it was a field hospital for wounded soldiers while a skirmish with approaching troops was narrowly avoided.    

Catholics still flock here on rare occasions for special Masses.  I was privileged to pray here among the faithful, with some students from nearly Belmont Abbey, a Benedictine monastery and university located in the nearby town.  Many thanks to all who worshiped with us and made us feel welcome.  The Mass was most memorable and prayed with great reverence by a wonderful priest.  Thanks be to God for this historic church, still standing after all these years.  The church is a window to history and gives evidence of the deep Catholic roots of the state of North Carolina.  

Many thanks to my good friend (and lay evangelist) Steve Cunningham of Sensus Fidelium for inviting me to this Mass.  

In the future it would be nice to see an external bathroom built on the edge of the property for the chapel to be available for weddings and more special events.    

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