Locust Grove Catholic
You are looking at the oldest Catholic church in the state of Georgia, the Church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, referred to in one history as the ‘Cradle of Catholicity in Georgia’. Most people are surprised that the oldest Catholic church in Georgia was not organized in Savannah, but here in the little farm town of Sharon. We have to remember that until well after the Revolutionary War, Catholics were not welcome in British circles. The first Catholic sanctuary in Savannah was organized in 1802. However, in 1790, several Catholic families of English decent made their way to this Georgia frontier location from Maryland, and the first Roman Catholic Church in Georgia was established in 1792.
A fellow Maryland native, Father John LeMoin, was sent from Baltimore to run the church and administer to the growing community. According to the Locust Grove Academy’s historical marker, several French families left their homeland due to the revolution and made their way to a new life in this agricultural Eden. Later they were joined by several Irish families and they all became part of the Locust Grove church. Early church records that include names such as O’Sullivan, Villabonteau, Semmes, and O’Donohoe show that both the French and Irish descendants had a presence in Locust Grove. In 1818, the first Roman Catholic school in Georgia, Locust Grove Academy, was established.
In 1877, the decision was made to move the church a short distance to the thriving town of Sharon, and they relocated the wood frame church originally built in 1821. The church prospered, even in a difficult post Civil War and Reconstruction environment, and in 1883 the present church was built…complete with a proper bell to summon the parishioners for Mass. A year later, in 1884, Locust Grove Academy was also moved to Sharon, into a large frame structure next to the new church and renamed Sacred Heart School for Boys. Other than the old cemetery, the community that was Locust Grove slowly disappeared, which is not unusual in the backcountry. Villages come and go but the churches survive as reminder of the glory that was. We see it all the time.
The old Locust Grove cemetery is a must see and is located at the original location of the church. Several photos of it are part of this series, along with a complete listing of interments. The sanctuary is now getting updated through the efforts of some Atlanta based supporters. After restoration efforts are complete the church will function as a Catholic Cultural center as well as a church. Support for their restoration efforts is encouraged, more information can be accessed below.
To learn more about the restoration efforts click here.
To learn more about the establishment of Catholicism in Georgia click here.
For church location and directions click here.