History of Religious Orders in the Diocese of Raleigh

From its humble beginning as part of the Vicariate Apostolic of North Carolina, to the present day, the Diocese of Raleigh has been blessed by the presence and ministry of varied communities of religious brothers, priests, and sisters.  Erected in March 1868 from the Diocese of Charleston (which had been established in 1820 to cover all of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia), the Vicariate Apostolic of North Carolina encompassed the entire state. At the time of its founding, the Vicariate was served by 16 priest religious. 

In 1910 eight counties were carved out to form the Territorial Abbey of Belmont (Burke, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln, McDowell, Polk, and Rutherford counties).  Bishop Abbot Haid, who already was the Abbot of Belmont and Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina, added a third title, Abbot Ordinary of the Belmont Abbey Nullius.  From 1910 to 1924 the headquarters for the Vicariate remained in Wilmington while the headquarters for the Abbatia Nullius was in Belmont.

By June 1910, when the Vicariate became the Territorial Abbey of Belmont, the number of priest religious had grown to 28; 127 women religious had also begun serving this Vicariate.  The Diocese of Raleigh was officially erected on December 12, 1924, and by 1944 saw its number of priest religious increase to 59, and women religious grow to 238. 

The religious communities represented in our Diocese have been numerous.  From the Redemptorist Priests who served at Holy Redeemer in Newton Grove (now named Our Lady of Guadalupe), to the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Immaculata, PA, from the Jesuit Priests and Brothers, to the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, our Diocese has been graced with many different religious orders.  Many of these men and women religious came to our Diocese to serve in mission work, specifically in historically black missions, parishes, and schools.  The girls’ orphanage in Belmont, as well as the Nazareth orphanage for boys (outside of Raleigh), were also served by women religious—particularly the Sisters of Mercy.

Certain individuals have played a particularly prominent role in the growth of our Diocese, among them Right Reverend Leo Haid, O.S.B., and Fr. Michael McInerney, O.S.B.  In 1887, Fr. Haid (serving as first Abbot of Belmont Abbey), was appointed Vicar Apostolic of NC; he was consecrated Bishop in 1888.  Drawing on the architectural expertise of Fr. McInerney, Bishop Haid oversaw the design and construction of many of our early church buildings.  Though Bishop Haid did not live to see his request granted, he is credited with having petitioned Rome to establish North Carolina as a Diocese.

Women Religious have also made an invaluable contribution to the life and growth of the Catholic Church in our state.  Sisters of Mercy from Charleston, South Carolina, moved to Wilmington in 1862 to care for victims of the Yellow Fever epidemic.  In 1869, this same order of sisters opened the “Academy of the Incarnation” (now named St. Mary’s School).  These Sisters are also credited with opening schools in the western part of our state, including: St. Patrick School (Charlotte—1888), Sacred Heart Academy (Belmont—1892), and Sacred Heart School (Salisbury—1910).  The Sisters of Mercy (Belmont) is the one community of women religious working in our state whose motherhouse is also located here. 

Both the orphanages in Belmont, North Carolina, and Raleigh, North Carolina were staffed by the Sister of Mercy of North Carolina. The last five years of the Catholic Orphanage on Nazareth Street in Raleigh, North Carolina were served by the Sisters of Notre Dame, Chardon, Ohio.

Other communities of women religious also answered the call to serve in North Carolina.  The Religious of Christian Education opened St. Genevieve of the Pines Academy Asheville, in 1908.  Equally prolific, the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh, New York, staffed the Catholic School in Newton Grove in 1907, founded Sacred Heart Academy (now the Cathedral School and Cardinal Gibbons High School) in Raleigh—1909, and began Immaculata School in Durham in 1909.  In 1926, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton, PA, staffed St. Joseph’s School, New Bern, for “colored children.”  This school had been opened by Father Thomas Frederick Prince in 1887 and was staffed by lay people until the I.H.M. Sisters came. In 1927 they also founded schools serving black children in Goldsboro and Washington, North Carolina, as well as another New Bern school (St. Paul’s) and a school in Raleigh (St. Monica’s).

Tar Heel Catholics by William F. Powers, 2003

The Diocese of Raleigh: An Overview by Monsignor Gerald L. Lewis, 1999.