A History of Saint Ann Catholic Church

St. Ann Church was born out of the desire of a small group of African American Catholics in Fayetteville to practice their faith without the constraints of the social prejudices of their time. The yearning for a church of their own can be traced back as early as the spring of 1920 when a letter was written to Bishop Leo Haid, leader of the Apostolic Vicariate (later the Diocese of Raleigh). Though it is difficult to determine the author of the letter from the long-faded signature, the message behind the typed words are clear: “I want to ask you, dear Bishop, won’t you please give us a Mission. We have never had anything of the kind here, and I feel that it will help because the people don’t know and will be glad of the chance to hear the true Gospel.”

Fourteen years after posting this letter, three African American families met for the first time in the home of Mrs. Claudia Cameron on Sunday afternoon, June 24, 1934. The group, consisting of eight Catholics, formed the Fayetteville unit of the Colored Catholic League of North Carolina. Serving as spiritual advisors, Fathers Noonan and Sullivan from St. Patrick Church initially helped guide the group. These eight founding members were: Claudia Cameron, Joseph L. Cameron, Alice Evans, Frank McKay, Annie McKay, Helen McKay, William Montgomery, and Eleanor Murphy. Soon, Father William P. Ryan, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate from South Boston, Massachusetts would arrive in Fayetteville to lead these founding members in their quest for a church of their own.

It was October 28, 1939 when Father Ryan reached the group. This date also coincided with the Feast of St. Jude, Patron Saint of the Hopeless. While “hopeless” certainly seemed to describe his mission, Father Ryan got to work immediately. Just three days after his arrival on November 1st, Father Ryan met with his new parishioners in the home of Mrs. Cameron. With a novena to St. Jude as their backdrop, Father Ryan and the founders of St. Ann continued to meet. Detailed notes that have survived to this day were taken at each meeting. It was December 24, 1939 before the first Mass was celebrated.

With special permission from the bishop, the first Mass of St. Ann was held on December 24, 1939 in Mack’s Barber Shop, owned by church member Mr. Frank McKay. To realize their dream of a church of their own, this special group of Catholics needed money. Through contributions from many parishes throughout the United States, as well as friends of Father Ryan, the church would soon be a reality. From the Most Reverend Richard J. Cushing, D.D., Director of the Boston Society for the Propagation of the Faith, came a gift of $4,500 by way of a memorial fund given by the parishioners of St. Anne Parish of Neponset, Mass. in memory of their late curate, Reverend John Hennessy of Boston. It was this gift that prompted the small Fayetteville group to name their church St. Ann.

Construction of the new church began in August 1940 and was completed in December of the same year at a cost of about $15,000. During the building period, it is said that Father Ryan was displeased with the shoddy construction; therefore, he took a sledgehammer to the new walls, telling the contractor to “build it correctly!” The church was dedicated on December 22, 1940, by Bishop Eugene J. McGuiness of the Raleigh Diocese. This was a happy and spirit-filled time.

After the dedication of the new church, the parish of St. Ann thrived. From going into the community and working with the USO to holding May Day celebrations on the church grounds, the people of St. Ann demonstrated what it meant to be a faith-filled community.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, parishioners also worked with the National Catholic Community Service. This work was guided by Father Ryan, who served as moderator of the club. Bishop Waters and Reverend Eugene Bergstrom, O.M.I. also helped.

In the early 1950s there was the belief that a parish school could serve parishioners and the local community. These were the days of segregation in the south, yet, St. Ann School opened as an integrated place of learning for both black boys and girls and the children of many white Catholic military families from nearby Ft. Bragg. The parents of these children maintained that they cared more about a Catholic education for their children than they did about the culture of that time.

The Saint Ann Parish School opened September 4, 1956. On the first day of school, 102 students reported and by year’s end, the enrollment had risen to 142. The first teachers were the Sisters of Providence, from St. Mary-of-the-Woods Indiana, with Sister Marie Stephanie as principal.

During this time Father Edward Moan, O.M.I. became the second pastor of the church. Father Moan had served at Ft. Bragg, which in itself was crucial to the survival of the church and school due to the generosity and participation of the Ft. Bragg Catholic community.

In 1959, Father Matthew Noonan, O.M.I. became the third pastor of St. Ann. His tenure brought about the construction of the church rectory. This brick building was constructed mostly on Saturdays by parishioners and their friends.

Following this, Father William Lynch, O.M.I. arrived to serve as pastor from 1962-1968. Under his direction, the school was expanded into a more modern nine room building. Father Ryan returned as pastor in 1968. By this time, the parish of St. Ann had grown to over 300 Catholics. Due to illness, Father Ryan ended his stay in 1971.  Fathers Patrick Mangan and George White, both of whom were also Oblates of Mary Immaculate, served as pastors from 1971-1973. It was during this time, specifically 1972, when the Sisters of Providence departed the Fayetteville area. The Daughters of Charity of Emmitsburg, Maryland were soon sent to staff St. Ann School, along with several lay teachers.

August 1973 saw the arrival of Father John J. Lyons to a continually growing Catholic community. With the number of parishioners approaching 455, Father Lyons created a fund in order to build a multi-purpose building that would be able to serve the needs of the growing parish. The St. Ann social hall was soon able to be constructed and was dedicated in May of 1977.

Father Richard Roche became pastor two years later in 1979. Under his direction, the church was renovated. Stained glass windows, ceiling fans, and a new heating and cooling system were installed. Seating capacity increased to 175.

In 1983, the church was rededicated with the halls and altar being anointed by Bishop Gossman. It was also in this year that Father John McHugh arrived as pastor of St. Ann. He contributed to the growth and development of the parish by making improvements to the school building, as well as directing the building of the grotto of Mary which was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Peter Srebro.

In 1989, Father Patrick Hollywood arrived and put the parish on a firm financial foundation. During this 50th anniversary year, the Korean Catholic Community of Fayetteville began meeting at St. Ann. Sanctuary furniture was designed for the social hall to link the 11 a.m. Mass celebrated there to the church.

Father Hollywood's tenure was cut short due to illness and Father Harry Winter replaced him in 1991. Father Winter finalized plans for the Korean Catholic Community to become an official component of the parish until they moved to their own church. The Most Rev. F. Joseph Gossman, Bishop of Raleigh, presided at Mass recognizing this on June 27, 1992.

On October 25, 1992, after a very successful fundraising campaign, the new sanctuary furniture in the social hall was dedicated. A parish town meeting held on November 18, 1992 began the process of meeting the urgent church and school needs for more meeting space, more office space, and privacy for the pastor.

The next chapter in the history of Saint Ann Catholic Church began as almost every chapter in the church's history began-with the arrival of a new priest, little money, much prayer and a very determined group of people.

Since the parish had grown so large, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate could no long consider it a mission parish. In 1994 the order stated that after 55 years of service to Saint Ann their mission work was done.

Saint Ann was entrusted to the Diocese of Raleigh. With tears and smiles the parish said goodbye to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and welcomed their first diocesan priest, Rev. Ernest J. "Ernie" Ruede.

Many changes were on the horizon. The building that served as both a rectory and parish office were converted entirely into offices. The parish purchased a condominium in the Clarendon House on Clarendon St. to use as the rectory. The Daughters of Charity under the leadership of Sister Joanne Goecke, DC established the Saint Ann Neighborhood Youth Center to serve area neighborhood children who were considered at risk. This program paired at-risk children with volunteer tutors from the local community. Founded in 1995, the Neighborhood Youth Center continues to thrive to this day.

During Father Ruede’s tenure the church was refurbished. The pews and floors were refinished, and new carpet and paint were added. After Father Ruede departed St. Ann, Father Davis, followed by Father Yaeger helped lay the foundation for the expansion of St. Ann. Following planning meetings within the parish and with Diocesan officials, ground was broken for the new, larger sanctuary on May 17, 2001. With the departure of Father Yaeger, St. Ann’s last Diocesan priest, the leadership of St. Ann would now be entrusted to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. The first Oblate to lead St. Ann was Father Thomas Malloy who arrived in 2001 to guide the parish through the expansion project and beyond.

Construction of the new sanctuary began in November of 2001, just four months after Father Malloy’s arrival to St. Ann. During the nearly two-year period of construction, all Masses were moved from the original church to the social hall. The Mass schedule on Sunday went from three masses (7:30, 9:00, and 11:00) down to two (8:30 and 11:00). A special community prayer was written and recited at each Mass after the Prayer of the Faithful, with the Rosary being prayed after all Masses. During the construction phase, the original church was boarded up, along with the stained-glass windows to protect them from damage. In June of 2002, as the new sanctuary continued to be built, Marianne Downs Behle, a stain glass artist from Warwick, New York visited St. Ann to gather information about the parish. She was soon commissioned to create the stained-glass windows for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. On Sunday, April 13, 2003, after much anticipation, the people of St. Ann were finally able to worship in their newly built sanctuary. The new sanctuary was formally dedicated on June 15, 2003.

Four years after the dedication, in 2007, Deacon Gary Stemple became St. Ann’s first permanent deacon. He has shared his love of the Lord through serving alongside our priest at every Mass and ministering to the people of St. Ann in many ways, particularly to the couples preparing for the sacrament of matrimony. Deacon Stemple continues to be a part of the St. Ann community.

Also in 2007, the Daughters of Charity completed their service at St. Ann School, and the school became completely staffed by lay educators.

St. Ann, while in the midst of a quiet period of growth and spiritual renewal, would experience a disruption of this peaceful period during the Advent season in 2010. The ceiling of the original church, still accessible and used for daily Mass, crashed to the floor. By the grace of God, there were no worshipers in the vicinity at the time. Though there were no injuries, the Stations of the Cross wall hangings, which had hung in the chapel since its construction, were damaged. A decision was made to have the treasured hangings restored rather than to acquire new ones. Mass continued to be held in the larger sanctuary until the large construction tarp came down, revealing a newly repaired ceiling.

While serving the faithful of St. Ann Church for 12 years, Fr. Malloy opened the door to the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. With the motto “Live Jesus” being a hallmark of the Oblates to which he belonged; Fr. Malloy began to offer various opportunities for the parishioners to grow in their faith. By attending various adult learning classes and workshops that focused on topics related to Catholicism, parishioners were able to develop an understanding of how living Jesus truly begins from within.

The summer of 2013 brought the announcement of Fr. Malloy’s retirement. Though he would be leaving the St. Ann community, he ensured that Salesian Spirituality would continue to be fostered in the hearts of the parishioners, by requesting his successor be from the Oblate community. Father Stephen Shott, OSFS, was sent to be the sixteenth pastor of St. Ann.

Arriving in time for the 75th Anniversary, Fr. Shott led the members of St. Ann in planning a year-long celebration of the church’s rich 75-year history. Kicking off the anniversary year in October of 2014 with a Mass led by Bishop Michael Burbidge, the year of celebration would conclude with a re-dedication of the church during the midnight Mass in 2015.

As part of the year-long anniversary celebration, the first MLK Jr. lecture was held to help continue the social justice legacy among Catholics in Fayetteville. The first lecture in January of 2015 was the beginning of an annual series of lectures that continues to this day.

In addition to guiding us through our anniversary celebration, Fr. Shott brought in 21st century technology to the parish. A continuously updated website, Facebook page, and even a mobile app, have all made St. Ann a part of the constantly changing digital age. As an oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Fr. Shott continued to offer spiritual growth opportunities as well. He instituted weekly classes entitled “Faith Matters”. Every Tuesday evening and Thursday morning, parishioners could attend these sessions to learn more about the different facets of their faith.

During and after the year of anniversary festivities, Fr. Shott initiated many changes to the physical grounds of the church and school. From having both buildings painted, and old light fixtures replaced, to having the bathrooms in the social hall completely remodeled in the summer of 2016, the refreshed appearance was a welcome change.

At the beginning of October in 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina and swept through Fayetteville bringing about severe flooding of the Cape Fear River. While the creek that runs near St. Ann was in danger of pouring onto the property, St. Ann was spared any significant damage. Only the downing of several trees occurred.

Also in 2016, a feasibility study was conducted to explore the possibility of building a new school. The study came at an appropriate time, as St. Ann School celebrated it’s 60th anniversary during the school year. Students wore anniversary pins on their Mass uniforms each week to celebrate. 

Two years after Hurricane Matthew, another hurricane with flooding rain hit Fayetteville. In September of 2018, Hurricane Florence impacted the area. With several days of constant rain, there was extensive flood damage to various parts of the church and social hall. With such damage and the resulting renovations, it was impossible to continue to hold Mass in the sanctuary. For four weeks, Mass was held in the chapel of Rogers and Breece Funeral Home located just down the road from St. Ann. Once it was safe to return to the property, Mass was held in the social hall for several weeks. During the renovations, all of the pews in the sanctuary were removed. Upholstered cushions were added to the pews, with the kneelers and chairs being recovered with the matching fabric.

Over the past 75 years, St. Ann has grown and changed considerably. The three founding families were certainly successful in their mission to have a church built for the purpose of worshiping the Lord. Though our mission today is not the same as theirs, we are still strong in our faith as were those who came before us. We are dedicated to living and handing-on the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Word, Sacrament and Service as our recently revised mission statement reflects. No matter how we live our mission, time will continue to move forward at St. Ann. The history of years past, however, will never be forgotten.

Pastors of Saint Ann Catholic Church

Rev. William Ryan, OMI (1939-1951 & 1968-1971)

Rev. Edward Moan, OMI (1951-1958)

Rev. Matthew Noonan, OMI (1958-1962)

Rev. William Lynch, OMI (1962-1968)

Rev. Patrick Mangan, OMI (1971-1973)

Rev. George White, OMI (1973)

Rev. John Lyons, OMI (1973-1979)

Rev. Richard Roche, OMI (1979- 9983)

Rev. Jack McHugh, OMI (1983-1989)

Rev. Patrick Hollywood, OMI (1989-1991)

Rev. Harry Winter, OMI (1991-1994)

Rev. Ernest Ruede (1994-1997)

Rev. Thomas "T" Davis (1997-2000)

Rev. Joseph Yaeger (2000-2001)

Rev. Thomas Malloy, OSFS (2001-2013)

Rev. Stephen E. Shott, OSFS (2013 – 2020)

Rev. Michael Coveyou (2020-present)