Catholic Hill

Written by:  A. Karel Horn

November 18, 2014

If you’re driving down Hendersonville highway to or from Yemassee you might notice a small green sign proclaiming “Catholic Hill.”   St. James the Greater Church was originally built in the area known as Thompson’s Crossroads in December of 1832.  Sometimes there is a tendency in modern times to believe that African-American Catholics have come into this denomination in recently, but in fact the very existence of this fascinating church right here in Colleton County proves that Catholicism in the African-American community can trace its roots back much further.1

When the area of Thompson’s Crossroads was settled by Irish immigrants they practiced Catholicism and so did their slaves.  A church was built at Catholic Hill in 1832 to service the spiritual needs of these immigrants and their slaves.  This church lasted a little more than twenty years and burned down in 1856.  Because the country was in turmoil over tension between the North and South just before the Civil War the church was not rebuilt.2

After the Civil War the Irish Immigrants scattered from the area but many of the freed slaves remained on the land that they considered home.  Thanks to the zeal and fervor of former slave Vincent de Paul Davis the freed slaves continued to practice Catholicism even without a church or regular priest.  According to the baptismal registry from this time period de Paul Davis acted as sponsor for many babies in the community so that they could be baptized in distant churches.3  De Paul Davis’ lay leadership was a driving force behind the community’s continued practice of Catholicism which was uninvestigated by the Catholic diocese for nearly thirty years.4

The community of black Catholics was “rediscovered” in 1892 by Father Daniel Berberich.  Father Berberich was a priest in Charleston traveling in the Walterboro area and when he heard about this group of black Catholics became determined to find them and bring them back into the fold of the Catholic Church.5  Once he located this community, Father Berberich made it his mission to serve the spiritual needs of this small community of Catholics and traveled to celebrate Mass at Thompson’s Crossroads twice per month.  Father Berberich also initiated the building of a church and parochial school in what had become known as “Catholic Hill.”6

In the past years though the St. James the Greater Church and School are still standing and used by the modern congregation for church services and fellowship.  As part of the preservation project St. James the Greater is retained the heart-pine wood from the floor of the school to create an altar, ambo, and baptismal font from the reclaimed wood.7  The school building has been remodeled to act as a fellowship hall for the congregation and is still part of the spiritual home for local congregants.   The diverse community of congregants attends Mass each week and is involved in the maintenance of a spiritually and historically significant landmark.

 

 


1Cyprian Davis, “Built of Living Stones.” www.uscatholic.org, July, 2008, September 1, 2014. http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/built-living-stones

2Natalie C. Hauff, “Congregation of Historic Catholic Church Near Walterboro Shaken by Theft of Precious Cargo,” The Post and Courier,  July 7, 2013, September 1, 2014.  http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130707/PC16/130709586

3The churches that the people of the community traveled to are unknown or unspecified.  It is plausible to speculate that Vincent de Paul Davis, as a store owner and entrepreneur, was the one to transport these families and their babies for baptism to either Charleston or Beaufort, South Carolina.

4Cyprian Davis, “Built of Living Stones.” www.uscatholic.org, July, 2008, September 1, 2014. http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/built-living-stones

5Natalie C. Hauff, “Congregation of Historic Catholic Church Near Walterboro Shaken by Theft of Precious Cargo,” The Post and Courier,  July 7, 2013, September 1, 2014.  http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130707/PC16/130709586

6Cyprian Davis, “Built of Living Stones.” www.uscatholic.org, July, 2008, September 1, 2014. http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/built-living-stones

7Natalie C. Hauff, “Congregation of Historic Catholic Church Near Walterboro Shaken by Theft of Precious Cargo,” The Post and Courier,  July 7, 2013, September 1, 2014.  http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130707/PC16/130709586

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