Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 3, 2002
Georgia Bulletin, January 3, 2002
New Hall Latest Chapter For Historic Washington Church
By Rebecca Rakoczy, Staff Writer
WASHINGTONThis small Georgia municipality, just over 100 miles from Atlanta, has the distinction of being the first city in the young United States of America to be named after George Washington.
But the history of the settlers here reflects a tradition that predates the Revolutionary War and the father of our nation. It is here that the origins of the Catholic faith in Georgia took hold more than 230 years ago, when the first Catholic colony migrated to Locust Grove, Ga., from Maryland. They formed a tiny parish in Sharon, Ga., and, in doing so, they became the roots of what would become todays Archdiocese of Atlanta. Joining Sharon in the early 1800s were the faith communities of Elberton, and Washington, with Washington serving as the hub of the Catholic community today.
On Dec. 15, 2001, Archbishop John F. Donoghue recognized those strong roots in the archdiocese as he joined Father Philip Ryan, pastor of St. Josephs Church in Washington, in a special Mass and blessing of a new parish hall. Father Paul Flood, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock, and Deacon Whitney Robichaux also assisted at the Mass. Parishioners packed the pews as Archbishop Donoghue recognized the parish for its long history in the area. Despite many changes in the community, this church and this parish have stayed and held on and renewed over again and grown strong and vibrant again, the archbishop said in his homily.
Afterward, the community had a special dinner celebration in the new hall.
The parish hall has been a long time coming.
With just about 60 families, the community reflects the warmth and hospitality of a small town parish and, for more than 30 years, their primary meeting place for social gatherings and religious education classes was a converted priests apartment off the side of their church sanctuary built in the early 1970s.
Their treasury was insufficient to build a complete hall. Father Ryan turned to Archbishop Donoghue for help in constructing the modest, one-story hall. It was built through donations taken from the archdiocesan mission fund, said Father Ryan, who expressed his deep thanks for its construction to Archbishop Donoghue during the Mass and the blessing ceremony. The parish hall also serves the needs of the parish missions in Elberton, with 30 families, and at the historic Sharon church, said Father Ryan.
The spread-out parish is typical of this rural community; on average Father Ryan estimated he puts 32,000 miles a year on his car going between the churches and visiting the sick in the area. St. Josephs has always been a small parish, said Father Ryan, who has been pastor here for eight years. Its a place where if you want to get something done you usually just look in the mirror, and youre it, he said with a laugh. Thats often the case and a necessity in small parish communities, where members must wear multiple hats.
For longtime parishioner Mary Darby, the new parish hall is just another chapter in her parishs storied history.
You can hardly believe all the things we did in there, said Darby, who was baptized in the old St. Josephs Church, (the new one was built in the early 1970s) and had her first Communion there during the early 1900s. Darby is a direct descendent of the founders of the faith community in the early 1700s. She remembers walking to 7 a.m. Mass as a child from her home in downtown Washington and picking up loose change from the roads apparently lost from Saturday nights revelers.
I hope I put it in the collection plate, the diminutive octogenarian said with a grin. I dont remember if I did or not, though.
Darby, along with her younger sister, Mildred Anderson, has watched this community, with its restored antebellum homes, grow with the cotton industry, then fade. For almost 100 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph ran an orphanage for boys in downtown Washington. She remembers when the pews at St. Josephs would be filled with the boys from the orphanage. That property, which was taken over by a Christian academy in the 1960s, now stands vacant. The legacy of the orphanage lives on as St. Josephs Village, which serves as a counseling program for children, teens and families in crisis.