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.
The sanctuary of this lovely Chapel has been renovated and modernized several times since its construction is 1874/75. But the exterior remains faithful to its original design and construction. Since its mission was to minister to the former slave population in the area, its design and presence was intended to be similar to other such churches found in the rural areas of Georgia. The shiplap siding, single door and simple wood framed windows are true to the customs and styles of its heritage. As you can see, the 140+ year old chapel remains in use for Weekly Mass as well as other special events and services today.
This view of the sanctuary shows that the interior was heavily restored and modified when the Centennial renovation was undertaken. However, the basic plan remains the same. It is a rectangular box shape with a suspended truss ceiling. This design allows for construction of a higher, central ceiling area creating cathedral-like atmosphere within. The modest, rectangular, wood framed windows provide natural light at a time before electric lighting was available.
The chancel and pulpit area were also heavily modified in the mid-1970’s. The Prayer rail, communion table and a decorative gothic arch reflect the modern tastes of that era. Its simplicity does adequately adhere to their desire of keeping this small chapel simple and unostentatious.
This view from the pulpit accents the “modern” approach adhered to by the interior area designers in the 1970’s. However, the warm colors of the pews, chancel furniture and prayer rail softens the angularity of the back wall, gallery steps and windows. This is still an inviting and embracing space.
All of the fit and finish work within the the sanctuary is clearly first class. And, we see here that the pews were made from heart pine, a wood that was indigenous to the Chapel’s location and construction era. This attention to retail is admirable.
This photograph was taken from the rear gallery. Here we get to experience elements from the Chapel’s original era as well as appreciate the scene today. The iron supports were originally installed to keep the walls from bulging out. They still do their job well. The pews reflect a design and quality that is totally in line with the tastes of the 19th century. The replacement floors are also of heart pine and comfortably blend with the other elements of the sanctuary. This church was founded on the premise that freed slaves as well as all others in the community deserved a worthy meeting house. That mission was accomplished and this chapel will continue to serve all for decades to come. The Catholic founders of Our Lady of Good Hope Chapel would be proud.
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Will there be Christmas Eve services at the chapel this year?
We would recommend giving the diocese a call.
How does one go about being married in this church!? I can’t seem to find contact info for it anywhere online.
We would suggest call the office of the Catholic diocese in Savannah.
The nearby St James the Less administers the chapel now, and it is available for weddings of 70 or under.