St. Mary Catholic Church (Wilmington, North Carolina)
|Basilica Shrine of Saint Mary|
Basilica Shrine of St. Mary
|Location||Wilmington, North Carolina, United States|
|Affiliation||Roman Catholic Church|
|District||Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh|
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Former Pro-Cathedral, current Minor Basilica|
|Leadership||Bishop Michael Francis Burbidge|
Its historic main church is of the Spanish Baroque style. It was designed by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, who is known for his work on the Biltmore Estate, Basilica of St. Lawrence, and Duke Chapel. The church was constructed without wooden or steel beams and without nails, instead using brick tile.
Wilmington’s Roman Catholic origins are with the 1820 organization of the Charleston Diocese in South Carolina under Bishop John England. He visited Wilmington regularly from 1821 to 1843. On January 1, 1845, the Rev. Thomas Murphy (1806–1863) was appointed Pastor of the Congregation of Wilmington, North Carolina. Under his supervision, the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle was built and completed in 1847. The Church was named a pro-cathedral when Cardinal James Gibbons took up residence as Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina in 1868. St. Thomas Church closed in 1966 and the parish merged with St. Mary Parish. The former church building is now known as Saint Thomas Preservation Hall.
In the 1890s Father Christopher Dennen encouraged the formation of a new church. On May 20, 1908 ground was broken for the Saint Mary Church. The cornerstone of the church was laid on the 21st of October, 1909 by Bishop Leo Haid, who was at the time the Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina. The first Mass held at the church was on December 17, 1911. On April 28, 1912 the parish was dedicated as St. Mary Pro-Cathedral by Cardinal Gibbons, but was returned to being a parish church when the Diocese of Raleigh was formed, and took over the area of Wilmington. The new cathedral of the Diocese of Raleigh, Sacred Heart Cathedral, is located in Raleigh, and the cathedral for the Diocese of Charlotte, Cathedral of St. Patrick, is in Charlotte.
On February 25, 2005 a petition was presented to the Diocese of Raleigh to consider naming St. Mary Church a Shrine.
On August 2, 2013, the Holy See conferred the title of minor basilica on the church, which then became known as the Basilica Shrine of St. Mary.
The Basilica Shrine of St. Mary also hosts the St. Mary Catholic School. The school hosts children from grades kindergarten to eighth grade. The school was founded by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in 1869 under the request of Bishop James Gibbons. The school was named Academy of the Incarnation. Another school, for poor girls, called St. Peter's Parochial School for Girls was also created. These schools were later closed.
In 1876 to provide Catholic education for boys, work began on a separate school building situated on the site now occupied by St. Mary Church at Fifth and Ann Streets. It was formally opened October 1, 1878 with an enrollment of fifty boys. Eventually over the course of time the boys and girls schools were merged into St. Mary School.
As was common in American Southern schools, the Catholic schools in Wilmington were racially segregated, with African American Catholic children served by the St. Thomas School. In the 1960s prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Diocese of Raleigh merged the segregated Catholic schools. St. Thomas School was combined with St. Mary School. The Sisters of the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary joined the faculty at St. Mary School and taught for several years with the Sisters of Mercy.
Joining the St. Mary Parish on September 8, 1982 were the Sisters of the Society of St. Ursula. This order contributed to the parish and school with work in the areas of education and especially in the development of social ministry.