Published April 28, 2016
SHARON—Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will conduct a special groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, May 5, at 4:30 p.m. in Sharon to mark the formal start of restorations to the Church of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Georgia’s first Catholic church. All are welcome to attend.
Purification Church dates from 1790, when a small band of English Catholics from Baltimore arrived in what is now Taliaferro County to set up a farming community. They built a simple log cabin church. With the deaths of some of the settlers in 1794, they established a cemetery next to it. The community came to be known as Locust Grove.
French Catholics fleeing the revolution in their country soon joined them. Later, Irish settlers came, including the ancestors of famed authors Margaret Mitchell and Flannery O’Connor. Sometime between 1818 and 1821 the Sisters of St. Joseph, a French order, arrived and established the first Catholic school in Georgia, chartered as Locust Grove Academy. Three future governors of Georgia were educated there.
In 1821, the original log church was replaced by a larger wood frame structure. By 1840, Locust Grove was the center of Catholic life in Georgia.
In later years, with the establishment of a railroad line two miles to the west, the growth of the new community of Sharon and the movement of settlers to better farming opportunities elsewhere, Locust Grove gradually died away. In 1877, the Church of the Purification relocated to Sharon. The wood frame church was dismantled for the move.
In 1883, a new church was built. This structure stands in disrepair today in Sharon.
With the formation of The Friends of Purification Church in 2012, a campaign to promote the history of the Church of the Purification and to raise funds for its restoration was launched. The group is dedicated to saving the threatened building and creating a vigorous future for Georgia’s first Catholic church and cemetery as pilgrimage site and retreat center for the faithful across Georgia.
In 2014, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, a statewide, nonprofit organization, placed the white, wood-framed church on its 2014 “Places in Peril” list.
Phase One of the restorations will encompass significant structural enhancements to the building’s foundation and roof system, including the bell tower. The existing roof will be replaced and the original 12 over 12 double hung wood windows will be restored to operable condition. The electrical and mechanical systems will also be evaluated and upgraded as appropriate.
The immediate goal of the campaign is to restore the Church to its 1883 appearance and enable its use once again for liturgical services. The long-term goal is to develop the Church of the Purification into a heritage destination and retreat center with regular services and programs.