Parish History

From These Roots

DesotoIn 1526, the first non-native American settlement was established on the banks of what is now Winyah Bay.  A group of Spaniards along with 100 African slaves attempted to establish San Miguel, a settlement on what they called The St. John the Baptist River.  Historians still disagree about the actual location of San Miguel with some believing it to be as far north as Cape Fear, while others think as far south as Savannah.  It is certain that the Spanish who had attempted a settlement of San Miguel had a Catholic background since both place names reflect early saints of the Church.  Father Richard Madden, author of the book, History of Catholics in South Carolina, states that the first Roman Catholic Mass in what is now the United States probably was held at Georgetown.  Father Montianos, who is credited with holding the first Mass north of Mexico, came with the Vasquez D’Allyon Colony, which settled on Winyah Bay in 1526.  According to history, the expedition landed in North Carolina at the Cape Fear River and then sailed along the coast to Winyah Bay.  They founded the colony of San Miguel on the Yuchi Indiansriver they called Guandape.  Historical records show that Indians near Aiken showed DeSoto a rosary and other items, which were recognized as the property of the D’Allyon Colonials. DeSoto was told that the Indians received them from Christians who settled “two day away” to the north.  The Spaniards abandoned the settlement after exhausting their food supply and experiencing a slave uprising.  Thus begins the history of Catholics in Georgetown.


From Despair to Optimism

For the next 300 years or so little is mentioned of Catholics in Georgetown.  Historical records indicate that an Irish gentleman, Michael Caverly, tried to build a Catholic church.  However, with his untimely death on September 30, 1830, the death knell for Georgetown Catholicism also rang.  Georgetown’s Catholicity diminished to such an extent that the area became “terre incognita” until 1856.

One man, Arthur Morgan, made a difference in regard to Georgetown’s Catholic roots.  The fledgling group in Georgetown apparently met with Arthur Morgan at his home as traveling priests passed through prior to the Civil War.  With the coming of the Civil War, there was once again a period of silence for Georgetown Catholics.  After the Civil War, Georgetown became a station of Stella Maris, Moultrieville.  Baptisms for several people in Georgetown are recorded in the Stella Maris registry dated January 1, 1869, by Father Timothy Bermingham.

Since there was no church or chapel here, Arthur and Louisa Morgan continued to offer their home as a meeting place until Arthur’s death in 1878.  At this time Arthur’s nephew, William Doyle Morgan, accepted the mantle of leadership for Catholicism in the area.  The Catholic Community had finally taken root.


Our Dream…

A New Church

St Mary 1901Records indicate that the Catholic Community was served by a number of mission priests from 1880-1897.  With the home of William Morgan at 732 Prince Street serving as quarters for the mission priests, the roots of faith spread.  William Morgan, son of Irish immigrants John and Mary Morgan, was born in New York on February 5, 1853.  The oldest of four children and the only son, Willie took responsibility for his family when his father died on September 13, 1865.  Although he was physically challenged, Morgan was as at home in the world of business as he was with his Catholicism.

With the increased demand for the sacraments, Father Charles D. Wood was assigned to serve Georgetown in 1898, but could visit only during the week, since he had other duties connected to the Cathedral.  Father Wood found Catholics desirous to build a church.  He thus made an appointment with Bishop H. P. Northrop, who granted his approval.  The lot on the corner of Broad and Highmarket Streets was purchased.  A special groundbreaking ceremony took place on October 10, 1899.  Father Wood said the first Sunday Mass in Georgetown in over thirty years on October 29, 1899.  Converting the Walker Skating Rink into St. Anne’s Chapel satisfied the need for more suitable facilities.  The cornerstone for the new church was blessed on Thanksgiving Day, 1899.  The church was officially dedicated on January 5, 1902, by Bishop H. P. Northrop.


A Gem of a Church

The name of St. Mary had been suggested to honor the Blessed Virgin, but also to honor the mother of William D. Morgan.  On January 5, 1902, in the dedication homily, Bishop Northrop refers to “His Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Ransom,” thus St. Mary, Our Lady of Ransom, was named.

The church is of pressed brick with granite trimmings of Romanesque style architecture.  Originally the church was in the form of a Latin cross, but this no longer exists since the church was renovated and enlarged in 1967.  One of the most outstanding features of our church are the stained glass windows.  The four large memorial windows were made in Germany and are genuine art glass.  The two windows dedicated to John and Mary Morgan, W. D. Morgan’s parents, represent “The Good Shepherd” and “St. Mary of Ransom.”  The two windows dedicated to John and Catherine McFeely represent “The Flight into Egypt” and “The Apostle John Writing the Gospel at the Isle of Patmos.”

These priceless treasures cost $400.00 a pair at the turn of the Twentieth Century.  “The Good Samaritan” and “The Annunciation” windows were created by Franz Mayer Company of Munich, Germany, and are considered to be exceptional works of art.  There are only a few Franz Mayer windows in churches of this diocese.  Other beautiful windows include “St. Frances of Rome” and “St. Patrick.”

The bell was cast at the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland, and weighs 2300 pounds.

Our Faith Lives On

There are many stories told of the early years of our church.  In today’s world it is difficult to understand the hardships experienced by our founding fathers.  The Morgan family and the vestrymen of the church pledged their personal obligation to borrow money to build the church.  Father Charles DuBois Wood rode his horse “Dan” from Florence to Georgetown to serve Catholics here.  Father Wood worked with local parishioners as they held bazaars, carnivals and raffles to raise $9,000.00 for the church.  Father Wood’s dedication and service of twenty years provided the strength the parishioners needed to answer the call to God’s service.

Father Albert A. Faase who served as pastor from 1947 until 1962 was instrumental in making many changes during his pastorate.  St. Mary’s Parochial School became a reality in 1950 and enjoyed twenty years of providing excellence in education for the children of our historic city.

In 1967 the church saw renovations that removed many of the original furnishings.  With renovations to the sanctuary nearly complete and the patio and flower beds laid out, the “new” St. Mary’s now opened to an entry on Broad Street rather than Highmarket Street as it had originally.

After many years of planning and fund-raising, St. Mary’s proudly dedicated a new Parish Life Center in November 2002.  It is a beautiful structure that will be enjoyed for years to come as a gathering place for our parish community.




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