Published December 13, 2013
SHARON—Catholics and their friends from across Georgia are creating a Christmas Eve tradition in the state’s oldest parish, the Church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the village of Sharon.
Pilgrims will gather for carols at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, and Mass at 4:30 p.m. in the white clapboard church outside Washington.
William De Golian, who heads an effort now underway to restore the 1890 church, said the pilgrims will be singing carols as “the first Christmas candles are lit.”
The church was filled last year, he said.
The Mass of Christmas Eve is one of the few celebrated each year at Purification, now a station church without a regular parish community. It is part of the Parish of St. Joseph in Washington. Mass will be celebrated by Father Vincent Sullivan, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church.
“There is a special sense of the season attending Mass in a historic church dedicated to Mary, in a parish entrusted to her spouse,” said De Golian. “Some of our visitors come quite a distance from adjoining states.”
The Sharon church, which is heated, has furnishings of its place and time, and its authentic altars are more elaborate than those usually found in American church interiors of the late 19th century.
The parish itself was begun in 1790 in nearby Locust Grove, well before the establishment of either the Diocese of Savannah (1850) or the Diocese of Atlanta (1956). Its bishop was originally in Baltimore, Md., and the church and Locust Grove Academy were the center of Catholicity in Georgia for many years.
The church was named to the 2014 “Places in Peril” list of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. A major effort is underway to preserve and restore the historic Catholic church.
De Golian said all are welcome to come to the Christmas Eve Mass. Directions to the Mass in Sharon are available on the website of the preservation campaign, now launched at savepurificationchurch.com.