Saint Mary of the Angels Catholic Church is located at 1821 White Street in Anderson, South Carolina. It was founded March 11, 1943, with the arrival of Father Francis Anthony Gorman, OFM who had been directed by the Franciscan Order, Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, to establish a Catholic church for Blacks in Anderson, South Carolina.
The task of finding and purchasing land on which to build a church for Blacks was a formidable one. The city of Anderson, as in most places all over the South, was deeply rooted in segregation and practiced legal separation of the races in all aspects of its culture. Therefore, the church had to be located in a Black section of the community, and its priest, a Caucasian, could not reside in an area designated for Blacks.
With the help of Mrs. Willa Peek and Mrs. Annie Sue Johnson (who were interested in becoming a Catholics), Father Francis was able to rent from Mr. Bulie Vandiver a house located on Plain Street for $15.00 a month. Unable to live on the property located in this Black community, Father Francis accepted the suggestion from Bishop Walsh of Charleston to live at Saint Joseph’s residence for its priests. For eight years, from 1943 to 1951, the Plain Street residence was converted into a structure suitable to use for its church services. Its earliest parishioners were Annie Sue Johnson, Willa Mae Alexander (Peek), Virginia Groves, Lizzie Hamilton, and Isabelle (Queen) Burns.
The church soon began to grow in number and in its function as a vital part of the Black community. During this period, Father Francis saw the need to provide wholesome activities for Black youth whom he saw hanging around pool halls and cafes in search of recreational activities. He began this mission by interacting with the young people at their usual “hangouts,” talking to the young men and women, and gaining the respect and admiration of the adult population.
At a meeting at C. Lee Davis’ Funeral Home, Father Francis met with Pat Flack, a Black community leader, and young teenage representatives from the four sides of town: East side, West Side, North Side, and South Side. From this meeting emerged a boy’s baseball league with teams from all four sides of town. The teams were sponsored by Father Francis and were managed by Eddie Woolridge, another Black community leader. With the support of the Black community, the teams and their ball games became a source of recreation and pride for children and adults alike. From the teams from the four sides of town, an All Star team was formed and its members played adult city teams every Saturday in upper South Carolina and parts of Georgia. Even though few of the team members were Catholic, the merits of belonging to the team were clear: baseball was a wholesome activity, and the youth were kept off the streets.
The baseball league gave way to the establishment of a St. Mary’s Boys and Girls club that gave both sexes a place to meet, share ideas, have fun, and learn to become responsible adults.
By 1951, the need for a larger church was obvious, and its reality was provided by a philanthropic gift of$27,000. Early in that year Father Francis had attended the dedication of a new Franciscan friary in Virginia Near the end of that celebration, he was approached by Father Plassman, OFM, the Minister Provincial of Holy Name Province, who informed him that the mother of Father Peter Botbst Duffee, OFM had left $27,000 to the Franciscan Order to build a Catholic Church in the South .. He asked Father Francis if he would like to have it to build his church to extend the ministry of St. Mary of the Angels Church. The generous offer was most graciously accepted by Father Frances and construction would soon begin.
Construction for the new facility was completed in October of 1951 on land with a residence that was purchased from a Mrs. Fant. Another parcel of adjoining property was purchased from a family named Thompson and would be used for a baseball field. The new structure was officially dedicated on December 2, 1951 in memory of the Duffie – O’Donnell families.
When the new parish center was completed in 1994, it was named The Father Frances A.
Gorman Center in honor of the founder of the church. Father Frances’ replacement was Father David Hyman, OFM who served St. Mary of the Angels Church until 2005. His successor was Father Aubrey McNeil, OFM who is still the parish priest today.
The church for Black Catholics that began with a membership of three persons now is a spiritual home for approximately 250 families of mixed races: Blacks, Caucasians, Hispanics, Haitians, Filipinos, Chinese, etc.
To accommodate its growth, the number of Sunday Masses has increased from one Mass in English, to four Masses, one of which are celebrated in Spanish. The steady growth in membership was the impetus for the construction of a new sanctuary which will more than double its seating capacity from one hundred fifteen to two hundred and forty. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church in 2008.
Although the existence of St. Mary of The Angels Catholic Church is still unknown to many Andersonians, since 1943 it has been a vital force in shaping the lives of many Black Andersonians – both Catholic and non-Catholic-and is becoming more visible to the Anderson community through its outreach programs: Vacation Bible School, aid to battered women and children, aid to the homeless through its Clean Start ministry, tutorial programs for Hispanics, and assistance to Good Neighbor Cupboard, Meals on Wheels and the Soup Kitchen.
Situated on the East side of Anderson, its mission is to, ” … in the spirit of Jesus Christ and St. Francis, minister in and with the African American Catholic community and to reach out to the African Americans of Anderson County. Furthermore, all who come to St. Mary’s from whatever background and ethnicity with a desire for Christian family will be regarded as brothers and sister to us. We also see ourselves as called to live in Gospel relationship to the alienated and the poor of this community.”