St. Mildred Catholic Church History
North Carolina was part of the Diocese of Charleston, which was formed in
1820, until the North Carolina Vicariate Apostolic was established in 1868
with the installation of Bishop James Gibbons. At that time the Bishop had
but three priests and only Raleigh, Edenton, and New Bern had churches. There
were 15 other missions and stations where Mass was offered in private homes
and approximately 700 Catholics in the state.
In 1910 Amelia Erath Russell arrived in Swansboro from New Iberia, Louisiana
where she had met and married Charles Taylor Russell, a Swansboro native,
three years earlier. Mrs. Russell was the first Catholic in Swansboro and
traveled frequently to New Bern by horse and buggy to attend Mass. She began
to put regular contributions into a box, praying to see a Catholic church in
her town. She eventually saved enough to buy a plot of land on the main
street, which she later donated for the first St. Mildred Chapel.
By the time the Raleigh Diocese was established in 1924, there were 6000
Catholics in North Carolina. In 1926 James Bryant Cannon and his wife Ella
donated land in Maysville, Jones County, on which a church was built and
dedicated in 1928. Here a priest came to say Mass once a month, and later
twice a month.
The four daughters of James Bryant Cannon's brother, John and his wife
Catherine, had gone to the Benedictine Abbey established in Belmont, NC for
nurse's training and brought back the Catholic faith which was embraced by
other members of the family. Lydia Cannon, one of the four daughters, married
Aaron Drew Dixon.Thomas E. Meadows and his family came to Maysville in the
early 30's, joining the small Catholic community there in Jones County, and
Mrs. Amelia Russell traveled here to attend Mass in her one seat automobile.
The Cannons, Dixons, Meadows, Anne McKutchon (the first known Catholic in
Jones County) and Amelia Russell formed the nucleus of the early Catholic
population in the Jones-Onslow Counties area from which the parishes of Holy
Innocents, Maysville and St. Mildred, Swansboro evolved.
On November 28, 1944 additional land off Highway 17 in Maysville was donated
by J.W. and Debbie L Meadows to Bishop Eugene J. McGuinness, second Bishop of
Raleigh. J. W. Meadows was a cousin of Thomas E. Meadows. The church built in
1928 was moved to this property and the Trinitarians established the Holy
Innocents Cenacle here with a mission in Swansboro where Masses were held
mostly in the home of parishioner May Chadwick. Bishop McGuinness had wide
experience at the Extension Society and continued the expansion of the
missionary Diocese of Raleigh.
An important element of mission work under Bishop Vincent S. Waters, third
Bishop of Raleigh, was the Outdoor Trailer Mission. North Carolina had a
Catholic population of less than 1% but during the summer this population
multiplied. To accommodate the seasonal increase, many areas, including
Emerald Isle, were served by two motor chapels. They were 35 feet in length,
8 feet wide with an inside height of 6 feet 8inches. The interior was divided
into three compartments: chapel, living quarters, and reception room. They
had outside altars and folding platforms.
After World War II Camp Lejeune, established in 1941, became a major Marine
installation and greatly contributed to the growth of the Catholic population
and the area in general. Large numbers of military personnel were introduced
to a new part of the country, Their presence continued to grow and many
servicemen made their homes in and around Swansboro. Some remained when their
years of active service ended. Others resumed careers that had been
interrupted and came back to the North Carolina coast after retirement.
On July 4, 1948 the first St. Mildred Chapel in Swansboro was dedicated by
Bishop Vincent S. Waters. This first chapel was a former military guardhouse
which was placed on the land donated by Amelia Russell.
In 1952, two bridges and a causeway were erected on Highway 24 over the White
Oak River, making Swansboro more accessible to communities to the east. And
in 1961 St. Mildred became the main parish due to area growth resulting from
development and tourism. Holy Innocents became the mission church and both
Maysville and Swansboro were served by the Trinitarians until 1964 when both
churches became diocesan churches. Holy Innocents in Maysville was closed in
In the 1960's and 70's, until the opening of the B. Cameron Langston Bridge
which connected Emerald Isle to the mainland, members of St. Mildred Men's
Club took chairs and tables to the Emerald Isle Town Hall just before Easter
weekend. These were kept at the Town Hall until Labor Day and were used for
Masses said by the priest from St. Mildred Church. Transportation was by way
of a ferry which operated between Cape Carteret and Emerald Isle.
In October, 1969 the present brick six-sided church was dedicated by Bishop
Waters. At that time the parish consisted of 65 devoted families. The women
cleaned the church, washed altar linens, and provided flowers; the men did
all necessary repairs and maintained the buildings and grounds. The original
church was converted into a parish hall and served in that capacity until
1993. In August of 1975, the beautiful stained glass windows donated by the
parishioners were dedicated while Fr. Vincent Mahoney, a former Navy chaplain,
Tourism intensified after the B. Cameron Langston Bridge was built in 1971
and development of the island and the coastal mainland escalated rapidly.
Catholics moving into this area became members of St. Mildred Parish. A
larger hall was needed and a building fund was created when this need for
continued expansion became apparent. The parishioners held cake sales,
suppers, raffles and bazaars. In August 1993 the present parish hall addition
to the church was dedicated by Bishop Joseph Gossman, the fourthand current
Bishop of Raleigh.
The original church, which had been the parish hall, was given to the White
Oak Ecumenical Outreach Ministries and was moved to its present site on
Highway 24. It is now a thrift shop appropriately named "The Hem of His
Garment". St. Mildred is one of 15 churches comprising this ecumenical group
providing meals on wheels along with assistance for the needy. The entire
staff of the thrift shop, are volunteers.
A parish library was opened in 1992 to complement the ongoing Catholic
education of member families. The library provides reference materials,
inspirational literature and video tapes.
In 1989 the Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette assumed the staffing of the
parish and Father Emile C. Dusseault, M.S. became pastor. In August 2000
Father Donald Baribeau, M.S. became pastor upon Fr. Dusseault's retirement.
St. Mildred Catholic Church is now a parish of more than 600 families,
continuing to grow and, having established yet another building fund, is
looking forward to new facilities.
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