St. Mary’s Parish, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the region, will be celebrating a major milestone after finally paying off their mortgage for their current house of worship, which now has a registered membership of 1,400 families after the congregation’s humble beginnings more than 110 years ago.
The congregation has hopes to continue growing, but this has been one of the church’s main goals for a while now, according to the parish’s bookkeeper, Maureen Raible, who is looking forward to burning the mortgage at the celebration.
“This has been one of our main goals for a long time, and it’s finally met,” she said.
Director of Music and Liturgy Dolores Fredericks said this will be a historic moment for the local Catholic church. She said the event will also honor their former pastor, Bill Gahagan, who will be declared monsignor.
“Father Bill was the pastor at the time of the decision to build our present church building. He created a building committee to develop design parameters, and eventually, the committee worked with architect and parishioner Tim Shaw to oversee the construction of the church,” Frederick said.
When Catholicism first started to see more growth in the region, the Catholics who formed what is now known as St. Mary’s met at a few different places to hold worship services before the early 1900s. In 1902, Father Emanuel Francis Callahan purchased a small cottage on Walnut Street, which he converted into a chapel and dedicated to St. Francis de Sales. It was there that they met to hold Mass on the first Sunday of each month.
Years later, as the congregation continued to grow, Callahan built a new parish in 1905 after purchasing the Old Burrow Hill Estate between Main and Market Streets. At this time, the congregation met in a small wooden house to hold Mass. This was the beginning of St. Mary’s, which was then called Mount St. Mary’s until 1916, when the Dominican Fathers of St. Joseph began running the parish.
In the early ’20s, the church needed more space for its congregation, which continued to grow due to the expansion of rayon mills in Elizabethton that brought many Catholics to the area. Despite the financial hardships of the Great Depression, the church managed to raise the funds necessary to build a magnificent Gothic-style brick chapel in 1931, which is now the home of Rose Hill Wedding Chapel.
As the ’70s approached, more Catholics began moving into the area as Johnson City’s population continued to grow. Because of this, the congregation had to move again, causing the church to begin raising funds yet again to find a new place of worship. In 1980, the church purchased their current location on East Lakeview Drive. Ten years later, the church completed a multi-purpose facility for their school and Masses on the weekend.
The congregation finally finished constructing their current house of worship in 2000, which was dedicated by Bishop Joseph Kurtz.
Raible said the congregation and its guests are invited to a thanksgiving Mass at 5:30, with a celebration dinner in the lower level of the church to commemorate the mortgage’s burning. With their house of worship finally paid for, Fredericks and the rest of the congregation at St. Mary’s are looking toward a bright future.
“We are now in a position to look to the future. A strategic planning committee is currently collecting feedback from parishioners and ministries on what we need to do better to achieve St. Mary’s mission,” the church wrote in an email. “Our future is bright, and with God’s mercy and grace, we are now positioned to better meet our ministerial, operational, and capital needs. It is our desire to create a vision for the future that will inspire everyone to continue to support St. Mary’s and the many ministries that are such a critical part of our parish.”