Parish History from 1941 to 1943
Dorothy Farrish Findlen
July 3, 1993
The first Catholic families in Elizabethtown had no church building from 1931 until 1941, so they attended Sunday Mass at the home of Samuel and Helen Parker. Father Henry Vosa, Redemptorist priest from Newton Grove, celebrated the first mass in the Parker home. He was followed by priests from Fayetteville and Whiteville, as well as by Franciscan friars from Grey Moor, New York. During those ten years, Father Anthony Sullivan of Grey Moor was among the celebrants. Later, he would celebrate the first mass and marriage at Our Lady of the Snows parish church.
During the 1930’s, Sisters of Mercy from Newton Grove frequented the Parker home and gave religious instructions. They formed friendships with the family which endure even today. The children were an integral part of religious services with Louis serving as acolyte and his sisters, Alma, Agnes, Lillian, and Magdelen. forming the choir. Magdelen would serve as church organist for several years. Our Lady of the Snows became an official parish of the Diocese of Raleigh.
Soon after settling in Elizabethtown. Samuel (“Sam”) Parker traveled to Raleigh to ask permission of Bishop Eugene McGuiness to initiate a church building fund. With permission granted, he sustained his efforts throughout the most difficult financial times. Friends of diverse ethnic origins and religions made donations to his project, some of the most substantial ones coming from his Jewish friends who were also business associates. The Franciscan Friars of Grey Moor sent their talented mason, Frank Solivelius, to help build the church, and the building was completed in the autumn of 1941.
Sunday, November 30, 1941 was the dedication of Our Lady of the Snows Church and parish. On that day, Rev. Anthony Sullivan celebrated the first mass and the first marriage in the church. Alma Parker and Shick Farris were married following the mass and dedication. Bishop McGuiness attended.
Shortly after the church was built, Helen Parker initiated a fund to purchase stained glass windows. For ten years, she added to the fund, and in 1951 the required amount was met. In that same year, Bishop Vincent Waters appointed Father Maurice Spillane first resident Pastor of Our Lady of the Snows. Father Spillane. Helen Parker, and her daughter Magdelen went to High Point to select and purchase the windows which remain in the church today.
As pastor, Father Spillane resided in the rectory adjacent the church which was donated by Mr. & Mrs. S.B. Baddour. This structure now serves as the parish hall and is presently undergoing renovations for the purpose of expansion.
The Catholic community in Elizabethtown might well trace its origins to June 1913 when Monsignor Michael Erwin married Samuel and Helen Parker in Dunn, North Carolina, and continued his inspirational visits to their home in Dunn, in Rocky Mount, and in Elizabethtown. He never lost hope that they would reach their goals. Sixty-two years ago, there were twelve thousand Catholics in North Carolina, and nine of them lived in Elizabethtown. In almost fifty-two years, Our Lady of the Snows Parish has struggled and grown from a tiny community to a much larger and diverse one. Much has changed with the passage of time, save the original spirit of the people who founded it.
In 1973, Helen Parker was instrumental in organizing the Ladies Circle. From her inspiration and unwavering support, this group of women has remained active and productive as they see to parish needs as well as those of the Circle’s members. In her final years, Helen was unable to attend Sunday Mass at church, so the current pastor, Father Giacomo Ghisalberti celebrated mass in her home where the first celebration had taken place over sixty years before. He said the last mass there in 1984.
For many decades, Helen welcomed bishops. monsignors. priests, nuns, and church congregations to her table. It is appropriate that the Ladies Circle has compiled a cookbook in a cooperative effort to further its good work in the tradition of its founder and benefactress.
When Our Lady of the Snows Church was dedicated in 1941, it was a mission of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. In the 1960’s Our Lady of the Snows became attached to Christ the King Church in Riegelwood to optimize priest resources. Then on July 8, 1997, Our Lady of the Snows was again attached to Sacred Heart when Father Al Gondek became pastor.