Mother of Mercy Catholic Church

200 Years in Washington, NC

Celebrating our Bicentennial / 1820-2020

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A concise history of Mother of Mercy Catholic Church

On December 30, 1820, the Right Reverend John England arrived in Charleston, S.C., having been named the first Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, which at that time encompassed Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. On June 4, 1821, Bishop England made his first visit to Washington,N.C. During his visit, he official organized and established the Catholic Church in Washington. The Catholic Community in Washington began construction on the St John the Evangelist Church on February 11, 1824. St John the Evangelist Church was consecrated by Bishop England on March 25, 1829; it was the first completed Catholic church in North Carolina.

In 1843-44, Clarissa Bond, a long-term resident of Washington, converted and received her sacraments. She would marry Alfred Price in 1845. They would have 8 children together. Her eighth child, Thomas Frederick Price, was born in Wilmington, NC. He would be ordained a Catholic Priest serving in North Carolina and eventually started the Maryknoll Community of Missionaries. Fr Price’s cause for Canonization as a saint is currently being investigated by the Holy See in Rome.

1850 - 1920

Civil War Years

This church of St John the Evangelist would serve the faithful until April 30, 1864, when retreating Federal troops set fire to much of Washington, including burning the church. From 1864 to 1927 – a total of 63 years – there was no church building in Washington but the faithful continued to practice their faith.  Various private homes, empty buildings in the downtown area and even chapel railroad cars were used for the celebration of the Sacraments and gatherings of the faithful. One resident, David Artis Keys, who was a convert, asked a priest in New Bern, “What can be done for my people in Washington?” His question showed a desire of the people of Washington to reconstruct an actual church edifice. So, in 1927 Mother of Mercy School, which was a one story building at the time, was built in three months, and was staffed by the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Scranton, PA with the mission to teach the children of freed slaves.  The school became a quick success and eventually a second story was added in 1932.

1920 - 1950

The churches of St. Agnus & Mother of Mercy

After the construction of the Mother of Mercy School, the building was used as the Church and the Sacraments were celebrated there. Nonetheless, the faithful of Washington still desired to have a proper church and so they began to construct Mother of Mercy church.

In addition to Mother of Mercy Church, St Agnes was formed, constructed, and eventually consecrated on October 13, 1929, by Bishop William J. Hafey to serve the white faithful while Mother of Mercy would continue to serve the black faithful. Father Mark Moeslein, who was a fantastic Passionist priest, served as the first pastor of St. Agnes and Mother of Mercy.  

On September 24, 1948, Mother of Mercy Church was dedicated by Bishop Vincent C. Waters.

1950 - Present

The modern Church in Washington

Bishop Waters was convinced of the importance of desegregation and so, even before the Federal mandate in 1953, he abolished segregated churches in North Carolina. Throughout the Diocese of Raleigh, he would merge churches and schools. Washington was no different, except instead of keeping the white church and school, which was the usual custom, Mother of Mercy Church and School were kept and used as themerged church and school. 

On October 25, 2011, the Mother of Mercy Church, School, and Rectory were added to the National Register of Historic Places. This was accomplished through the generous work of William Holliday, Jr., who is a parishioner, and also a graduate of Mother of Mercy High School.


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