Church of the Purification, 1883, Sharon

The first Catholic congregation in Georgia dates to 1790, when several English families from Maryland established a church at Locust Grove, in present-day Taliaferro County. They first called their colony Mary Land, in honor of their home state, but the name was quickly changed, first to Mount Panoma and finally to Locust Grove, for the large number of locust trees in the area. (All that remains of Locust Grove, about 1.7 miles from Sharon, is the Catholic cemetery). A log church, built there in 1792 to accommodate 50-60 parishioners was the first Catholic church ever built in Georgia. It was christened the Church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The “Maryland English” at Locust Grove were soon joined and surpassed in number by French Catholics seeking refuge from the revolution and from the slave revolt in Haiti. Their priest, Father Souze, accompanied them. Father Jean le Moyne settled here around 1793-94, though records now indicate that Father Oliver le Mercier was the first priest to officially serve the congregation. Over the next two decades, German and Irish settlers were added to the congregation. Ancestors of Margaret Mitchell and Flannery O’Connor were early members.

While the first Georgia Catholics were not people of great means, they were educated and wanted the same for their children. In 1818 or 1819, they established Locust Grove Academy in the old log church and in 1826 it was chartered by the General Assembly as the first Catholic school in Georgia. A more substantial church structure was built to serve the congregation in 1821. In 1883, the present church was built. By 2001, the church was downgraded to station status by the Atlanta Archdiocese and it was essentially abandoned. An effort is presently being made to restore the structure and ultimately, rebuild the congregation. Presently, a well-attended Christmas Eve Mass is held here.

Source: Jane Abbott, “English Catholics at Locust Grove”, pp 12-15. One Faith…One Family: The Diocese of Savannah 1850-2000


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