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A History of Saint Mary Catholic Church

The history of the Catholic Church in Goldsboro dates back to the time when James Cardinal Gibbons, then Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina, came through town on horseback. Mass was celebrated in a private home, that of Mrs. Hannah E. Freeman, on North William Street. Her home was the home of the priests for many years whenever they came to Goldsboro.
Another prominent figure in the early history of St. Mary Parish was Dr. John Robinson, who came here from Ireland in 1847. He had a chapel constructed on his property near the corner of John and Vine Streets around 1854. This chapel was used for Mass, weddings and funerals for a number of years. A large crucifix which he brought with him from Ireland was used in the chapel and later given to the parish as a gift of the Robinson family. This crucifix became an important piece of our parish history.
In 1886 the Reverend Thomas Frederick Price, the first parochial priest in Goldsboro, began collecting funds for the erection of a future church. A number of events such as fairs, bazaars, and raffles were held, and Father Price also went north to procure additional funds. The original St. Mary Church building was finally begun, completed and dedicated in 1889, at the corner of William and Mulberry Streets. The mission church served the five local Catholic families who made up the parish at that time: the Freemans, Robinsons, Griswolds, Kolbs, and Piedmonts. Father Price served the mission parish until 1895. He later left North Carolina to become the co-founder of the Maryknoll Fathers, a community of foreign mission priests.
In 1915, the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Arthur Raine Freeman was assigned as the first resident pastor of St. Mary Parish. The grandson of one of the original members, Arthur Freeman had turned the first spadeful of dirt at the groundbreaking of the church building in 1889. During his sixteen years as pastor, Father Freeman built the rectory, installed gas heat, pews, the organ and the church bell. He also started churches in Wilson, Kinston, and Mount Olive as missions of St. Mary Church. He began raising funds for a school, and on September 8, 1927, St. Mary School opened with 45 students enrolled in grades one through seven. The school was staffed by three Sisters of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Scranton, Pennsylvania. In April 1931 Father Freeman was designated Chancellor of the newly-erected Diocese of Raleigh and Rector of the Cathedral.
In the mid-thirties, Sacred Heart Parish was opened in Goldsboro and staffed by the Redemptorist Fathers. They worked among the black people of Goldsboro and Wayne County. This parish was in existence until 1969 when the diocese merged Sacred Heart with St. Mary Church.
In the early 1950's, Msgr. Edward T. Gilbert, pastor of St. Mary's,purchased property at the corner of Edgerton Street and Jefferson Avenue. Plans were drawn for a total parish community at the new site. St. Mary's School and Convent were erected first and completed in December 1956.
The bishop decided to split St. Mary Parish in 1962. A new parish was dedicated under the title of St. Bernadette and joined to St. Mary's School. Parishioners attended Mass in the school auditorium.
In July 1977 the original St. Mary's Parish downtown was merged with St. Bernadette's and St. Mary's School at the Edgerton/Jefferson location. Planning began for a new church building. The downtown property was sold in 1978 and by 1982 parish finances had stabilized adequately to move ahead with the plans. Formal groundbreaking ceremonies were held on October 21, 1984, and actual construction began on February 7, 1985. The new church building was dedicated on January 12, 1986.
The large crucifix in our church today was brought from the original St. Mary Church building. It has long been known as "The Robinson Crucifix", and is a cherished part of our history. It was refurbished in 1985 before being placed in the new church. The marble used throughout the church also came from the original building.
St. Mary Parish grew from approximately 400 families in the mid-eighties to approximately 700 families in 2005. In response to an increasing number of Spanish-speaking parishioners, a weekly Spanish liturgy is offered each Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
Since July 1990, St. Mary Church has been staffed/administered by priests of the religious community, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Their mission is to spread the gospel through the charism of Salesian Spirituality based on the writings and preaching of their Patron St. Francis de Sales.
The Diocese of Raleigh graduated its first class of permanent deacons on November 12, 2004. Reverend Deacon Webster A. James was assigned that month as the first permanent deacon at St. Mary Parish.
St. Mary School continues its long tradition of academic excellence, serving students today from pre-school through grade eight. The Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary also maintains a presence on the faculty, having served the school since it was established in 1927.


James Cardinal Gibbons