Mission in Butner becomes a parish

The Mission of St. Bernadette was established Sunday, Aug. 26 as a parish, led by Father Marcos Leon-Angulo, pastor.

According to the church’s history, U.S. Army officials purchased 40,000 acres of open fields in Durham, Granville and Person Counties during WWII and transformed that open space into Camp Butner. In addition to training soldiers, the property was also used to serve the spiritual needs of the men at the camp. There was a chapel on the land that would later become St. Bernadette Catholic Church. 

In 1958, Bishop Vincent S. Waters dedicated St. Bernadette as a mission church of St. Catherine of Siena in Wake Forest.

Mission churches are usually established in rural areas where small Catholic communities have formed but are not large enough to be self-supporting. Mission communities often worship in rented spaces with visiting priests until the community grows to support itself.

For more than 60 years, members of the St. Bernadette community have been hoping to get enough parishioners to become an independent parish.

“It’s a goal that we have finally reached. We came here as a family in 1970, and we were [part of] a very small congregation,” said parishioner Catherine Karns. “Our numbers grew some years but then went down, too. But we knew that one day we were going to succeed.”

To celebrate the transition from mission to parish, community members gathered at the Butner Sport Arena, a location large enough to accommodate the crowd, to watch Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama sign the parish documents.

Once complete, the document was held up by the bishop and met with great applause.

“This is a beautiful day for St. Bernadette that is no longer going to be a mission, but a parish. And our diocese is very proud of them,” Bishop Zarama said.

Father Leon responded to the bishop’s remarks by acknowledging that it’s a great responsibility to be a parish.

The celebration ended with food provided by parishioners and music from local Mariachi singers.