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Celebrating 200 years of Catholicism in North Carolina

Sisters of Providence General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, SP, having received an invitation from St. Patrick Catholic Church, Fayetteville, N.C. — the oldest Catholic Church in North Carolina — requesting the presence of Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, at the celebration of their 200th anniversary of the founding of the parish, asked two representatives, Sister Betty Paul and Sister Katherine Francis French to attend the celebration.

Sister Betty Paul (left) and Sister Kathy French with Bishop Luis Zarama, Bishop of Raleigh.


These sisters are presently living and ministering in the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., and live in the town of Lexington, which is two hours from Fayetteville. Sister Betty and Sister Kathy arrived in Fayetteville for the festivities on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. The celebratory Eucharistic Liturgy was presided by His Excellency Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama, Bishop of Raleigh, N.C., along with Bishop Robert Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, N.C., Bishop Bernard Shlesinger, Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta, and the Pastor of Saint Patrick Parish, Rev. Gregory Lowchy.

Before the Mass began, the sisters were introduced to numerous parishioners including Harry Doody. In 2019, Harry and his wife, Kathy, had traveled to the Motherhouse to gather archival information in preparation for the Bicentennial Anniversary. Harry spoke exuberantly of the warm and gracious welcome and assistance they received from the sisters in Archives and elsewhere.


The highlights of the Mass were the performance of the Parish Bell Choir, the orchestral fanfare composed for the occasion, the down to earth homily of the Bishop of Raleigh and the spirited energy of the congregation. Following the Mass, a reception took place in the fourth church (now an activity center), which is attached to the newer present Saint Patrick Church, built in 2014.

Sister Betty and Sister Kathy had the opportunity to meet both Bishop Luis Zarama and the Pastor of the Parish.

Sister Kathy French with Anthony Bishop, whose ancestors were founding members of the parish.

It was the desire of the sisters not to leave Fayetteville until they had taken pictures of Saint Patrick Church and School. Outside Saint Patrick School is a historical sign identifying Saint Patrick Catholic School as Fayetteville’s original Christian School since 1937. The sisters also had the desire to visit Saint Ann Parish, several miles away, which was the site of the first Black Catholic Church in Fayetteville and where our sisters opened the first reverse segregated Catholic School in 1956 at the request of Bishop Vincent Waters.

Saint Ann

When the sisters arrived at Saint Ann Parish, they proceeded to take photos of the beautiful new church and went in search of the school. As they passed the church office, the door opened and a young man, Anthony Bishop – the current Director of Religious Education in the parish – greeted the sisters warmly and offered to give them a tour. A request was made to Bishop Leo Haid, leader of the Apostolic Vicariate (later the Diocese of Raleigh) in 1920 for the building of the church for the Black Catholics. In speaking with Mr. Bishop, the sisters discovered that his ancestors were some of the founding members of the parish in 1934. Mr. Bishop spoke of the legacy of the Sisters of Providence and some of the information passed on to him by his aunt.

As they toured the original section of the school, Sister Betty and Sister Kathy were overwhelmed, thrilled and emotionally touched by having had the opportunity to walk in the same halls and classrooms as the first sisters who ministered there.

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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  1. Avatar Donna Butler on September 22, 2021 at 8:44 am

    Betty and Kathy,
    So glad you were able to be present for this occasion.
    It is good to revisit our history of presence in North Carolina.

  2. Avatar Sr Sharon Richards on September 22, 2021 at 9:24 am

    So glad that Betty and Kathy were there to represent us. I’m so sorry to have missed the celebration, as I spent happy years (1967-1772) teaching at St Ann and St Patrick.

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