In 1955 Charlotte, North Carolina was the home of five Catholic parishes: St. Peter, St. Patrick, Our Lady of Consolation, Our Lady of Assumption, and St. Ann. With southeast Charlotte’s continued growth, Auxiliary Bishop Navaugh of the Diocese of
Raleigh purchased the Hatcher and Wall properties off Providence Road near Sharon Amity Road. In October 1956, Bishop Vincent Waters of Raleigh announced a new Catholic church would be built on the property. Construction began and in a matter of months a church was completed.
In August of 1957, Bishop Waters appointed Father Jean Paul Byron as the founding pastor of St. Gabriel. At the time of his appointment, Father Byron was administering the new church of the Immaculate Conception in Durham, NC.
According to Father Byron: “I was at lunch at the time and I rose from the table and drove directly to Charlotte. Upon my arrival, I found it; one mile from the then city limits at Wendover Road, a small brick building that looked
like a telephone office (which it had been!) with a tiny clearing around it given over to weeds, a frame house behind, a brick house below, and the rest trees. I peered into the windows and prowled through the woods and found the
old quail barns and a pond, whose frogs I would hear every night for several years, and I thought, what a swell place! In the ten years that I spent there, I never changed my mind. “
“Monsignor Manly of St. Patrick announced the new parish lines and I moved into the empty brick house with a folding chair and a bed. I borrowed a cafeteria table for the first altar in the empty church and passed a shoe box
for the ‘essential Catholic thing’, the collection. We celebrated the first Mass together on September 15th, 1957. There were 175 families.”
According to Father Byron, everything in the Church was “imported” and all of it was select goods with the exception of the first pump organ which stood in the church sanctuary in the early days. Father Byron continues:
“Lacking better talent, I would proceed solemnly to it, during the Hail Holy Queen at the end of Mass and play it, pumping madly, for the last hymns as loud as it would go, which wasn’t much. We sang in that church – we the people
– from the very first Sunday; and that was eight years before the end of Vatican II which made it a universal Catholic requirement for public worship.”
Finally, Father Byron recalled: “I put red velvet behind the tabernacle that first Christmas and thought it a glory. But then, that is what I thought of the placed its people in all my ten years there. I still do! It was a glory. To the best of my recollection, the reason was that we laughed a lot and cared about quality things in worship and all aspects of parish life, and we didn’t take ourselves too seriously.”
The pastors that have served St. Gabriel Church are:
Father J. Paul Byron 1957-1967
Father Walter Sullivan 1967-1970
Monsignor Michael O’Keefe 1970-1975 (first expansion)
Monsignor Hugh Dolan 1975-1979
Father Tom Walsh 1979-1989 (current church builder)
Father Ed Sheridan 1989-1998 (second expansion)
Monsignor Richard M. Bellow 1998-July 6,2004
Father Edward J. Sheridan, July 6, 2004-2007
Father Frank O’Rourke, July 2007-present
The first construction project for the new St. Gabriel parish was St. Gabriel School, which was started in late spring in 1960. The school was completed in November 1960, and opened with 150 students in grades K-8. In 1962, the lower level of the school was completed providing four more classrooms and a library. This building continues to serve the parish as the
Youth Center today. In 1963 a two-story building housing a cafeteria and a gymnasium was constructed.
In 1971 Father O’Keefe announced plans to expand the original St. Gabriel Church to accommodate the 500 families of St. Gabriel parish. The original church had a seating capacity of 250 people. The expanded church would be built
to seat 600 people. By the time the expansion was completed in 1973, St. Gabriel parish had increased to 690 families.
The school building and grounds are owned by St. Gabriel parish and are provided to the Mecklenburg Area Catholic School system. St. Gabriel School is a K-5 facility operated by MACS.
A new parish Ministry Center was constructed on the site of the original church building. Two houses, the rectory and the parish office, were removed to make way for a major expansion of parking facilities.
Today, St. Gabriel Church serves 3,400 families and over 10,000 parishioners. It is the second largest parish in the Charlotte Diocese. The name Gabriel means “man of God,” or “God has shown himself mighty.” It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in
the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the angel who appeared to Zachariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptizer. Finally, he announced to Mary that she would bear a Son Who would be conceived of the Holy Spirit, Son of the Most High, and Saviour of the world. The feast day is September 29th. St. Gabriel is the patron of communications workers.
St. Gabriel celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2007, please check out some photos from that event!