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First Catholics

The first known Catholics to reside in Salisbury were Dr. Stephen Lee Ferrend and Col. Robert MacNamara. Dr. Ferrend married Margaret Steele (daughter of John Steele and granddaughter of Elizabeth Maxwell Steele famous for her role in the Revolutionary War). Dr. Ferrend was the grandfather of NC politician John S. Henderson. While Dr. Ferrend was a baptized Catholic, he later become a member of Saint Luke's Episcopal Church. He was buried in the Steele family cemetery in Steelworth, but was moved to Chestnut Hill Cemetery at the turn of the century. He had fought in the War of 1812. 

Col. Robert McNamara settled here and married Eliza Steele on June 27, 1814 (also daughter of John Steele and granddaughter of Elizabeth Maxwell Steele). He was aware of the possibility of losing his Catholic faith since, at the time, no priest had ever made a missionary stop in the city. In 1838, he moved his family to Columbia, S.C., where one of his daughters later entered the Sisters of Mercy. When he died in 1848, he was buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

Sister Mary Agatha McNamara (Louisa McNamara)

Louisa McNamara was born on April 27, 1829 in Salisbury. She was Col. McNamara's fourth daughter and in her earliest years gave many proofs of her desire to enter a religious state. In 1858, she was admitted into the Community of the Sisters of Mercy in Columbia, S.C. As a Sister of Mercy, she gave early evidence of fine administrative ability, and of great aptitude for teaching others, in which she was eminently successful. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Sister M. Agatha was one of that noble band of Sisters, who for four years, nursed and cared for soldiers in hospitals of Virginia.*

* Information from From the Archives: Obituary of Sister M. Agatha MacNamara, by Sister Mary Anne Francis Campbell

** More information about Sister M. Agatha MacNamara can be found in Bishop England's Sisterhood, 1829-1929 by Sister Mary Anne Francis Campbell


Elizabeth Maxwell Steele aiding General Greene during the revolutionary war.


John Steele


Dr. Stephen Lee Ferrend

The Roueche Family

Richard Roueche

The lasting and deep foundation of Catholicism was planted in Salisbury by Francis Richard Roueche,. He was born on September 30, 1814, in Alsace, Territoire de Belfort, France. The family was of minor nobility and lived in a chateau in the rolling hills of Fontaine. His parents died while he was still quite young. At the age of 16, he went to live with his brother John in New York, who was a successful merchant. After spending several years studying, and receiving his inheritance, he and his brother John left New York and moved to North Carolina. They settled near Lincolnton where they conducted a general merchandise store. This is also where Richard met his future wife, Eliza Smith.

Eliza Smith

Eliza Hannah Smith was born on June 18,1819 in the beautiful ancestral home of the Smith family, "Magnolia Grove", in Lincoln County, N.C. She was the daughter of David and Elizabeth Arndt Smith, who were descendants of German pathfinders and settled in the hills of North Carolina. Eliza was a direct descendant of Rev. Johann Gottfried Arndt, a native German, who came to this country in 1773. He was ordained to the Lutheran ministry at Old Organ Church in Rowan County, the first Lutheran minister ordained in N.C. Tradition says Eliza was her father's favorite daughter, and kept his books for him. Like all the Smiths she had a retentive memory, and was a great reader. 


There were great parental objections toward this relationship. Richard was not even allowed to visit to Eliza's home. Eliza's parents objected to the fact that Richard was a Frenchman, a foreigner, and a Roman Catholic. Eliza had been reared a staunch Lutheran, so she was told to forget him. As the parental objections persisted they decided to elope and were married in July 29, 1838 in Lincolnton, at the home of John Roueche (Richard's brother). In August of the same year, Richard and Eliza Roueche travelled to Salisbury, N.C. and moved into the "Old Mansion House" (on the corner of Innes and Main) where they lived for two years.

Catholicism in Salisbury

It was here, in the "Old Mansion House" that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was first offered in Salisbury. At this time, there was no Catholic Church nearer than Raleigh. Rev. Timothy Cronin was from the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., and once or twice a year visited the few Catholics in the state. He was a native of Cork, Ireland and was ordained at the Seminary of St. John the Baptist in Charleston in 1838. Rev. Timothy Cronin, as the guest of Richard Roueche, would offer the Mass each day in their home. During one of Father Cronin's trips to Salisbury he was able to receive Eliza into the Catholic Church.


In the fall of 1842, Father Cronin tragically died of yellow fever in the home of Richard Roueche. His remains were taken to the Church of St. Joseph in Gaston County and buried.​ After Father Cronin's death, the Rt. Rev. Ignatius Aloysius Reynolds was appointed to the missions of N.C. (baptizing Richard and Eliza's second child, James). Later, Father Ignatius was ordained the second Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston. Rev. J Gifford succeeded Bishop Reynolds as the missionary in North Carolina and baptized Eliza's fourth child, Sara Ann, when she was just five days old. When in Salisbury, the priest made his home with the Roueche family, the only Catholics north of Charlotte. He was received as one of the family, each day offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and instructing Eliza and her children in the faith.

*For more information about St. Joseph Catholic Church please see: "Still Sacred", Our State, by Alan Hodge, November 2005

Growing Faith

In August of 1847, the Roueche family decided to move to Saint Louis and then in 1848, down to Dalton, Georgia. It was not until 1859 that Richard and Eliza moved back to Salisbury, now with their six children . During the Roueche's absence, there were no Catholics living in Salisbury. It was not until April 1861, after the Civil War began, that another priest came to Salisbury. Rev. Joseph O'Connell of Wilmington, came to Salisbury, and inquired at the station if there were any Catholics living there,. He was told of the Roueche family. The family was overjoyed to receive a priest in their home after almost two years away from the sacraments. Richard Roueche died just three weeks later.

A number of leading families in Salisbury, influenced by the Oxford Movement of Cardinal Newman in England, were received into the Church during the period of turmoil that preceded the Civil War and the troubled period of reconstruction that followed. The most notable of these was Dr. Levi Silliman Ives, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina. The Oxford Movement had caused a great upheaval in worldwide Anglican circles and Dr. Ives returned to union with Rome while visiting that City. He had governed the Episcopal Church from Salisbury during most of his twenty years as head of the Diocese.*

*Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia - Rev. J. J. O'Connell, p416-417

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Eliza Smith Roueche

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"Magnolia Grove"

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"Old Mansion House"

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Bishop Ignatius Reynolds,

second Bishop of Charleston

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Rev. Joseph O'Connell

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"The same nation which sent her sons to aid America in the birth of a new nation, also sent one of her most devoted citizens to become the Joseph of the first Catholic family in Salisbury. Francis Richard Roueche, will ever be revered as the father of Catholicity in this city and county. The home of Mr. Roueche became Salisbury's Bethlehem, and Salisbury's Nazareth, and Salisbury's Calvary. Within the 'Old Mansion House', on the site of the present Wallace building, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered; there Christ became present and the Sacrifice of the Cross was renewed. Within that house, 'the bread which cometh down from heave', became the food of those favored souls who were, by their Catholic lives, to preach the unchanging ruths of Christianity. That this family can look back and find no record of apostacy, that out of this same sturdy family, God has seen fit to call the first priest whom Salisbury soon will give to the ranks of Christi's priesthood in the Old North State, are but evidences of the sterling character and unalloyed Faith of that loveable Frechman who became a beloved American in this fair city of the South."

-Right Reverend Bishop William J. Hafey, D.D., First Bishop of Raleigh

November 1932, Golden Jubilee of Sacred Heart Church

Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, Miss Christine Fisher converted to the Catholic faith, another significant conversion for the Church in Salisbury. Miss Fisher was the sister of Col. Charles Frederick Fisher. Col. Fisher and his wife had three children: Frances Christine, Frederick, and Annie. Shortly after Annie's birth Col. Fisher died in the First Battle of Bull Run and his wife shortly followed, leaving their three children orphaned under the care of their Catholic aunt, Miss Christine Fisher. All three children, after years of study and instruction under the direction of their saintly aunt, were baptized and received into the Catholic Church.  Frederick was baptized by Rev. Joseph O'Connell and the two girls, Frances Christine and Annie, being baptized by Rev. Lawrence O'Connell in 1868.

*Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia - Rev. J. J. O'Connell, p 438-441

The First Church

During the post war years, the number of Catholics continued to increase, as did the regularity of visiting priests, coming several times a year. The main priests who attended to the faithful in Salisbury were the three brothers who were all priests, Revs. Jeremiah, Lawrence, and Joseph O'Connell. Frances Christine's stately home, on the corner of Fulton and Innes Street, was commonly used as the meeting place for Mass. Cardinal James Gibbons, who served as Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina, was also a frequently visiting priest on his tours through the diocese. The parish still has a Victorian chest which was owned by Frances Fisher and used as the altar when Cardinal Gibbons would visit. 

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Frances Christine Fisher

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Cardinal James Gibbons

Walnut Chest owned by Frances Fisher that was used for Mass by Cardinal Gibbons.

In early 1881, Father Patrick Moore, a zealous young priest from Wilmington, became the first pastor for Salisbury. Shortly after his assignment, Father Moore baptized the first individual, John David Ney Roueche, to be recorded in the parish sacramental records, on January 16th, 1881.  The following year, the first church building was built on land donated by Frances Fisher. The new church stood on grounds that once were part of Frances Fisher's formal gardens. Magnolias and English boxwoods were left in place wherever possible, making a striking setting for the little church. The plans were given to her by a friend in the north, and they had been drawn by a noted architect. These plans, with certain modifications, were used to build the church. James Small was the contractor and builder. The plans called for an Alpine Swiss design with a high, pitched roof and narrow lancet windows. It was called the loveliest church in the South by a non-Catholic writer for the Salisbury Post. The sum of several thousands dollars was spent on the church. Part of this money was made by collections all throughout town, from many who were non-Catholic. The inspiration and principal donor was Frances Fisher, who gave her mind, time, and available means to the noble work, sparing no sacrifice for its adornment, and architectural beauty. Miss Fisher was also the first organist and taught the first choir to sing the Mass. Bishop Northrop of Charleston, who was Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina at the time, was present for the dedication on November 19th, and was assisted by Father Moore and Father Mark Gross. The Mass was sung by St. Peter's Choir of Charlotte. Monthly visits were made by Father Patrick Moore from his parish in Charlotte.

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Bishop Henry Northrop,

fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston

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