A History of Our Maronite Catholic Parish in Fayetteville, North Carolina
The history of the Maronite church in the Carolinas began at the turn of the 20thcentury with immigrant merchants from Lebanon came to the Carolinas. In hope of beginning a new life, they settled in the area of the Cape Fear region.
The South, at that time, had few Catholics; even today, only a small percentage of the population is Catholic. In the early part of the last century, the Maronites made up one of the largest ethnic groups of Catholics in the Carolinas.
From his See in Raleigh, Bishop Vincent S. Waters recognized the significant contributions these early immigrants were making to the Church and the secular life in the areas where they settle. His own deep love and gratitude for all the Maronites had done, coupled with his personal friendship with Archbishop Francis Zayek, led Bishop Walters to share with these people his dream of establishing a Maronite parish where the ancient and beautiful Divine Liturgy could be celebrated. Until that time, Maronites worshipped in local Roman Catholic Churches.
The Maronite community contracted to purchase the old St. Patrick's Church, built in 1936 on Arsenal Avenue, from the Diocese of Raleigh and began an extensive three year renovation project. Visitors to the Church are drawn to the beautiful stained glass window of St. Patrick on the east wall of the Church. The remodeling culminated with the hanging of the icon of “Christ in Judgment” behind the altar. The icon is a copy (by Orlando Lagman) on the huge mosaic in the Baptistery of San Giovanni (Saint John) in the piazza (plaza) of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower) in Florence, Italy.
Now, the duly re–dedicated St. Michael's Mission would become the spiritual home for the Maronites and would allow them to celebrate the faith of their forefathers, restoring the spiritual heritage they had not been able to practice for many years. Father Thomas made it clear by encouraging all Catholics, regardless of Rite that they were welcome at St. Michael's Church – and they came.
The building of a social hall in 1978 further gave this community of faith of much needed place to have their social functions, which further enhanced and cemented the parish life of this new community. Father Joseph Thomas, during his thirteen years as Pastor, shaped the parish known for its deep spirituality.
Close “family” togetherness has helped shape this parish into a vibrant Christian community, which attracts people of many different nationalities. Visitors often comment they had never been to an Eastern Liturgy before; but, without exception are drawn to experience the presence of God in a special way through the prayers, singing, chanting and ineffable beauty of the Maronite Liturgy.
What is most important to the history of this parish is what is within: our involvement in serving others, our focus in meeting the spiritual needs of this diverse parish. We give thanks for rich heritage as we meet today's challenges and nurture the faith in a bright future.
On behalf of the Archangel Michael Community, I welcome you to our Parish, and hope that your faith experience is a wonderful one.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Fr. Sam Najjar