Opelika’s Catholic roots

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Photo by Robert Noles
Photo by Robert Noles

By Morgan Bryce
Staff Reporter

In 1910, there were no Catholic churches in east Alabama. Father Patrick McHale, a Vincentian provincial, decided that this district, comprised of Lee, Clay, Randolph, Coosa, Tallapoosa, Chambers, Macon, Russell, and portions of Elmore counties, needed a central location to establish a mission, and he and other Vincentian members chose Opelika.
The Vincentians are a part of the Congregation of the Mission, an organization founded by French Roman Catholic priest Vincent de Paul, with a primary mission of reaching and assisting the poor.
According to historical information provided by St. Mary’s Church, McHale and other Vincentians not only chose Opelika because of its centralized location, but the fact that “no city of the South has better railroad facilities, is more convenient for transportation, and has better connection with the surrounding country.”
In 1910, while looking for a place to establish the church, the Vincentians purchased the house that sits at the corner of Fourth Avenue and N. Tenth Street, known as “The Pines.” There, they held masses and church events until the present-day St. Mary’s sanctuary was constructed and dedicated in 1911.
After establishing St. Mary’s in Opelika, the Vincentians expanded their mission presence and constructed four other churches in Auburn, Phenix City, Lanett and Salem.
More than a century later, St. Mary’s is still serving the spiritual needs of the Opelika community. Led by Father Bruce Krause, the church has seen an increase in church membership and extensive renovations to the church’s interior.
The church’s growing Hispanic membership necessitated the need for a Spanish-language service, and Krause said seeing the meshing of cultures coming together at St. Mary’s has been incredible.
“It’s great for our members to learn about each other’s different cultural heritage. Through different church events and during the renovation process, I saw our members interact and become a more united church body,” Krause said.
Krause said that the path his church is taking has him optimistic about its future.
“I’m excited about the future of this church and the kind of outreach we are doing here in the Opelika community. We have a great group of people here and I’m looking forward to seeing us continue to grow,” Krause said.
St. Mary’s is located at 1000 4th Ave., and offers both Saturday and Sunday masses, with Saturday’s English service starting at 4:30 p.m., and the Spanish service at 7 p.m.  Sunday’s English mass is at 9 a.m., and the Spanish service at 11:15 a.m. For more information, call St. Mary’s at 749-8359.

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