History

Along with Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Locust Grove, the Catholic community in Washington, Georgia is one of the oldest in the state. The first Catholic mass in Washington was said in the home of Thomas and Kate Semmes in 1835 by Father Peter Whalen, who was pastor of Purification Church. The Semmes family donated land for the construction of a church building in 1840 that later became known as Saint Patrick Catholic Church.

Saint Patrick Church served the eastern Georgia community until the 1870s. In 1876 the Sisters of Saint Joseph relocated their orphanage, Saint Joseph’s Home, from Savannah to Washington. When the sisters established their new location in Washington, the pastor of Saint Patrick, Father James M. O’Brien, thought that the distance from the orphanage to Saint Patrick was too excessive for the sisters and boys to walk every day, and as a result, he directed the construction of a new church building closer to the orphanage. The new church, Saint Joseph, was completed and dedicated on November 20, 1887, replacing Saint Patrick after a fire ravaged the parsonage. All that is left of the old Saint Patrick church is a crumbling cemetery where its original benefactor, Father O’Brien, is buried.

The little wooden church building of 1887 served the Washington Catholic community for nearly fifty years before a new brick building was built and dedicated on May 30, 1932. The building served multiple purposes; it housed the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the orphan boys under their care, served as a school building, and a beautiful chapel in the building’s east wing was used for mass. After the dedication of the new building, the old church fell out of use and was dismantled.

The parish experienced a fair bit of change over the course of the 1900s. In 1956, the church was staffed by the Verona Fathers. In 1967, the Sisters of Saint Joseph relocated the orphanage once again to East Point in Atlanta, renaming it Saint Joseph Village. With the departure of the sisters and the orphanage, Saint Joseph parishioner numbers suffered, dipping to only 25 families in the 1980s. The Verona Fathers left sometime in the 1970s and were replaced by the Oblate Fathers, who eventually relinquished care of the parish back to the Archdiocese.

After the relocation of the orphanage in the 1960s, the parish sold the old orphanage and chapel building and purchased property off of the North By-Pass in Washington for a new church. The new church was completed in 1972, with a new rectory completed in 1986 and a parish hall in 2001. The parish currently oversees Saint Mary Mission in Elberton and the Purification Church in Sharon, which is now a Station.