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Bulloch History by Roger Allen
How Catholics came to Bulloch
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    How the Catholic Church came to Statesboro and Bulloch County is a little known story. It all began with the arrival in Georgia in 1930 of two sets of brothers (who also just happened to be first cousins) and their families from Italy. They were Roman Catholics.
    Benedict and Furtunato Strozzo and John and Salvatore DeNitto were on their way to Florida to make their fortune when they learned of a good deal on some land 4 miles outside of Brooklet in Bulloch County. They bought the land and almost immediately planted crops of tomatoes, onions, carrots, and potatoes.
Truck farming was not an every-day sight in Bulloch County, and their efforts aroused a lot of curiosity. As Catholics, however, they were all alone.
    When it came time to baptize John Francis DeNitto, the Assistant Pastor of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist Harold Barr was asked to do the honors.
    John’s mother Mathilda insisted on the baptism being performed at their home, so Barr agreed to travel to the DeNitto home outside of Brooklet, where he baptized the child on March 24, 1935. At the same time, an agreement was reached by which a monthly Mass would be said at their home for all who wished to attend.
    Fellow Catholics from Savannah came to attend the Mass in a show of support, and soon students from Saint Vincent’s Academy in Savannah came to help teacher the younger children their catechisms.
On January 1, 1938, young Dominic Strozzo was baptized, with Bishop Gerald Patrick in attendance.
    It wasn’t very long before they were some local converts to Catholicism, including the Browns, Olivers, Murphys, Griffins, Johnsons, Carletons, Thayers and others. Two Catholic priests now served the Bulloch County flock: Fathers Grady and Berl.
    As early as 1938, Father Joseph Cassidy, the Director of the Catholic Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and Rural Life began his missionary work throughout the Pine Barrens. He had built the “Queen of Apostles Motor Chapel”. Powered by a large Chrysler engine, this vehicle and trailer combination included two bunk beds, a small toilet, as well as a movie and sound projection system.
    At the back of the trailer were two large doors that swung open to reveal a mobile altar on a raised platform, on which he could address large crowd just about anywhere. In 1942, the Roman Catholic Church’s Catholic Youth Organization established the Little Ogeechee River Boy Scout Camp, primarily for black youths, in order to win more converts.
    Beginning in September of 1943, Father Daniel J. McCarthy was assigned to the Statesboro Mission.
At this time, it was estimated there were some 25 members attending the Statesboro Mission while services were provided to some 25 Catholic soldiers and nearly 100 Catholic POW’s at the Air Base. In addition, there was the regular group attending the Brooklet Mass, as well as 25 German farmers needing services at Day Branch, and some 45 Irish folk needing services in Hagan.
    On Saturday nights Father McCarthy would stay at the Jaeckel Hotel in Statesboro so he could conduct early morning services for the POW’s and soldiers. Reverend Howard Bishop, founder of the Glenmary home Missionaries, visited Statesboro and agreed that Statesboro needed a permanent Catholic presence. At first the Catholic Church rented a house on 553 South Main Street for their church, office, and rectory, until it could build a permanent church and rectory.
    For 23 years the Glenmary Brothers and Sisters ran the Statesboro Mission. Priests Francis McGrath and Ed Smith, along with Brother Vincent Wilmes, were the first to be given the mission of serving Catholics throughout a seven-county region: Bulloch, Tattnall, Jenkins, Emanuel, Candler, Scriven, and Effingham.
    When the county went dry in 1947, liquor store owner Willard Collins sold some land on Savannah Avenue to the Catholic Church for a mere pittance. On it sat a two-bedroom house, the now-closed liquor store, and several outbuildings. Members Walter Aldred, Harry Sack, and Father Smith quickly raised some $10,000 in donations and began building a “real church.”
    The Most Reverend Francis E. Hyland dedicated the building, now called the “Church of Saint Matthew”, on February 15, 1950.
    On September 24, 1967, the Glenmary organization ceased running the Statesboro Mission, which became a full-fledged parish, when Bishop Gerald Frey appointed Father George James as pastor of Saint Matthew.

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