Black Catholic History in the Diocese of Savannah

Black Catholicism in Georgia pre-dates the founding of the country, beginning with the incursion of the Spanish conquistadores of La Florida and later French emigres fleeing the Revolutions in France and Haiti. Following the American Revolution, the Black Catholic community received very little individual attention. In 1874, Bishop William Gross invited Benedictine priests to the Diocese to educate Catholics of Color, especially those formerly enslaved. Out of this ministry, Black Catholic churches were established, the oldest of these is St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Savannah, still active today. Other Black Catholic churches developed in Albany, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta through the efforts of Diocesan priests, St. Katharine Drexel, and ministry of the Society of African Missions, Franciscans, Dominicans, and the Glenmary Home Missioners.;xNLx;;xNLx;As Black Catholic churches were established, the need to Catholic education was also recognized. Additional ministerial support to the community came from female religious orders such as the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Mercy, and the Missionary Franciscans of the Immaculate Conception. The number of Black parishes, schools, and orphanages grew in Georgia. ;xNLx;;xNLx;The 1960s and 1970s dramatically affected the Black Catholic community. Some religious orders, experiencing a post-Vatican II vocational crisis, withdrew from the Diocese, citing lack of available members to staff parishes or schools. The Era of Civil Rights and Integration caused the closure of many Black Catholic institutions. Many records and history were lost during this period.;xNLx;;xNLx;In an effort to document what history is known, the Diocese of Savannah Archives & Records Department presents a timeline of major events of the Black Catholic community from its history.

1733-01-01 00:00:00

Colony of Georgia founded

Though the English established the colony of Georgia in 1733, Spanish Catholics explored the area as early as 1493. Georgia remained a colony until its statehood in the U.S. in 1778. General James Oglethorpe established the colony and built the City of Savannah with total religious freedom except for Catholics, who he feared would defect from Georgia to Spanish Florida.

1778-12-29 00:00:00

British Army occupies Savannah

After seizing Savannah, British forces nullified the State Constitution. However, they allowed Baptists and Congregationalists to meet to deter possible defectors from joining the Independence cause.

1779-09-01 00:00:00

Battle of Savannah

English versus Georgians during the Revolutionary War. The Siege (or battle) of Savannah was the second deadliest conflict in the Revolutionary War. The Americans lost and Britain occupied the city for four years. During the occupation, the British fostered Catholic citizens to incite Spanish interest in Georgia.

1789-11-01 00:00:00

Archdiocese of Baltimore

With the religious freedom guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, the Pope saw American as a large missionary field. America's first diocese, established in Baltimore, encompassed the entire country as it was settled.

1790-01-01 00:00:00

Locust Grove

First Catholic settlement in Georgia. Established 1790 in Wlkes County (now Taliaferro) Georgia.

1790-01-01 00:00:00

Mirault Family

This French family, exiled from Santo Domingo, moved to Savannah along with their slaves. Pierre Michel Joseph Mirault arrived in a time before the Catholic church established a meeting house, so he held mass whenever a priest came through Savannah harbor at his home for the Catholics. Pierre encouraged his slaves to become Catholic, which they did and were among the first African Americans baptized in Georgia. The Mirauly family and their slaves were so respected by the community that common laws, such as separate seating between white and black Catholics in church, did not apply to them. Their prominence continued past the Civil War and into the twentieth century.

1791-01-01 00:00:00

Freedom of Religion in U.S. and Georgia

Although Catholicism was temporarily legal under British occupation of Savannah 1779-1782, the ratification of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed total religious freedom in all states.

1812-01-01 00:00:00

War of 1812

Britain again attempts to conquer its former colonies. Their approach at the Battle of New Orleans was stopped by General Andrew Jackson, so the British attacked from the Canadian border. They succeeded in marching into the white house and burning it down. America also gained territory in Canada. The war ended in a draw and agreement that both parties would relinquish lands they conquered, setting the international political boundaries in North America where they are today.

1820-01-01 00:00:00

Diocese of Charleston

The newly established Charleston Diocese encompassed 142,000 sq. miles including three states: North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

1834-01-01 00:00:00

Mother Mathilda Beasley

Mathilda was born in New Orleans, LA and enslaved to James C. Taylor. She made her way to Savannah in the 1850's. There she met her husband and converted to Catholicism in 1869. Her husband died in 1877 leaving her with a fortune, which she donated to the church and served the Black community as a religious woman. She established the Saint Francis Home for Colored Orphans in Savannah and continued to raise funds for the poor until her death. The Religious Order for Black women that she attempted to establish in 1887 was disbanded a couple of years before her death and Franciscans from [Augusta?] took over her ministry at the orphanage.

Black Catholic History in the Diocese of Savannah

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