Catholic church preserves Washington landmark

Published 5:16 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A historical landmark that played a big role in the community for nearly a century is undergoing renovations.

Mother of Mercy Catholic Church is renovating its community building, which once served as a Catholic school. The school, built by African Americans in the area, was established in 1927 by the sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic church, who made it their mission to educate the descendants of freed slaves. The attendance grew from 15 to 100 students in its first three months and became the first accredited high school in Washington, according to Larry McDaniel, a member of the church. The school eventually closed in 1973.

The building is a vital component of the church and area’s history, which prompted the parish to renovate the building, McDaniel said.

According to Father Brendan Buckler, church officials discovered the building was on the North Carolina Historic Registry and invited a representative of the N.C. State Historic Preservation office take a look at the building and make suggestions about how to go about its renovation, Buckler said.

“It was put on the historic registry before by one of our parishioners, William Holliday,” Buckler said. “It’s pretty historic, so we started looking into it. We started investigating how to go about taking care of this building. We found out in the process, the building is in great shape and just needs some repairs.”

Buckler said the building has a 300-year-old slate roof that needs repairs. The historic preservation office also suggested the church keep an eye on the building’s foundation and correct some grading around the church for proper drainage away from the building, according to Buckler.

“Basically, our approach is a balance of trying to restore some of it to its original glory while also keeping it functional for current needs of the parish,” Buckler said. “The renovation is basically about the importance of maintaining our history and culture here in Washington. From the Catholic perspective, it’s about maintaining a historic building like the Catholic school that had a huge influence on Washington, especially educating black Catholics and non-Catholics. So it’s kind of maintaining our history and kind of having those monuments of our history, rather than just having it written down in a book somewhere.”

Currently, the plan is to renovate a room within the school building to house historical documents and put items from the past on display, according to McDaniel.

Buckler said church savings will fund the roof repairs, and as things unfold, officials will evaluate where funds will come from for future repairs.

“I hope to not only take care of our facilities and maintain our history, but also have a monument of Catholic education here in the community as recognition of what has happened here in Washington from the Catholic perspective over the years,” Buckler said. “Basically, it’s a matter of taking care of things we’ve inherited that those who came before us passed down to us — things they’ve worked hard to bring about.”