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Our Lady Star of the Sea

Deanery: Valdosta-Brunswick
Mass Times: Saturday Vigil: 5:00 PM | Sunday: 11:00 AM
Year Established: 1840

Phone: 912-882-4718

106 Dillingham Street East
Saint Marys, GA
County: Camden

 In 1840 at Saint Marys, a small coastal village at the mouth of Saint Marys River, the Diocese of Savannah established the parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea, the sixth parish parish founded in Georgia. It was a prosperous period for the town, and apparently, for the parish. In his book, The Church in South Georgia, Father William V. Coleman describes the Saint Marys parish as having “the first resident pastor (1840) and one of the earliest churches (1842).” In fact, church records point to Saint Marys as the center of the coastal missions for two generations beginning around 1840.

The French Catholics who landed on the Georgia coast in the early 1800s had found a land that was only a river’s crossing from the Spanish in Florida to the South, but without any Catholics. British law had forbidden the practice of the Catholic religion to fortify the English presence in the colonies. The busy center of the catholic coastal missions of the 1840s evolved, therefore, from these migrating French, who became the bedrock of the Catholic congregation in Saint Marys.

The small congregation, not yet an official parish, but nevertheless dedicated and with trustees, was deeded a large parcel of land on Dillingham Street by the city of Saint Marys in 1826, although it would be more than 130 years before a church would be built there. One trustee was James Vocelle, an Acadian (from Nova Scotia, Canada). His family and others met in their homes and stores, and were meeting upstairs over a grocery later in 1840s when another of the group, Marie Ponce DuFour, bought the little church for the Catholics. Later in the post-Civil War recovery, Our Lady Star of The Sea Parish was placed in the care of Marist missionaries from Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Brunswick and remained their mission for many years. According to Marist records, James Vocelle’s daughter, Hortense Vocelle, administered the affairs of the parish during the quiet postwar period and continued into the early 1900s. Mass at Saint Marys was celebrated once a month, for the most part, until 1953, when the mission priests began offering weekly Masses. Father John Mercer began the weekly schedule, followed by Father William Collins, Father Meiluta and Father William Kelly, among others. After a new church was built in 1958 on the Dillingham Street property, the parish was assigned its first resident priest, Father Stephen Mayer, who also administered Saint Francis of Assisi Mission, assumed the interim pastorate of the Saint Marys parish.

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