Our Lady of Good Hope Chapel

Chatham County
Org 1870s
Photography by Wayne Moore

There are not many Catholic Churches located in what we define as rural Georgia, but this is one them. It was certainly very rural at its founding in 1874. The history of the little chapel is sketchy but there are several references to it in various places. According to the Catholic history on the website “The roots of St. James go back to 1874. The Savannah Morning News reported “the arrival of Benedictine Monks who would erect a school on a tract of land on Skidaway Island for the education of colored members”, (Priest Landing), and on the Isle of Hope a novitiate and chapel were established on land donated by Doctor Stephen Dupon. Yellow fever took the lives of all but one (1) nine months later.

Also from a Savannah Morning News article dated Feb 15, 1875 – “Savannah, Skidaway and Seaboard Railroad carried down a large number of persons as participants in and witnesses of the ceremonies attendant upon the dedication of the new Catholic Church at Isle of Hope. Shortly after the arrival of the train a procession was formed at the residence of the Priest in charge of the Chapel, and marched to the edifice, which is quite a neat and comfortable building, located a short distance from the railroad track. Major Al Bonaud, a resident of the Isle, donated a fine bell for the chapel, which was hung in the belfry on Saturday. Yesterday as the procession moved off from the Priest’s house the bell was rung, the echoes reverberating through the woods”.

Also from Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia by Jeremiah O’Connell – “It was on May 13, 1874, when two Benedictines, Rev. Gabriel Bergier, of the Monastery Pierre-quli-vive, in France and the Rev. Raphael Wissel, of the ancient Abbey of Subjaco, in Italy, arrived in Savannah, Georgia, with the intention of devoting themselves to the spiritual interest of the colored population……..under these promising indications Father Bergier gladly availed himself of the kind offer of Dr. Stephen Dupon, at Isle of Hope, to establish a novitiate on a valuable lot which the doctor presented to him, together with a small frame house suitable for a chapel………Nine months had not quite elapsed since the little community occupied their new house at Isle of Hope when suddenly an entire change took place in consequence of the premature death of the superior, Father Bergier, of D. Gregory Enright, a clerical novice, and of J. McDonald, a candidate, who all died within three weeks in September and October , 187 of the yellow fever. The colored congregation in Savannah was given in charge of the energetic Rev. Father Eckert, and the house on Isle of Hope was assigned to the Benedictines of St. Vincent’s in Pennsylvania”.

One has to admire the courage and dedication of these Benedictine clergy to come into the hostile climate of the marshes after the ravages of the Civil War “to see to the education of colored members”. Yellow fever took them all within nine months. This charming little Chapel on the Isle of Good hope is a testament to this dedication and service.

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