Last updated: February 15, 2018
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church
The congregation of St. Mary's was the first Roman Catholic Church in the Carolinas and Georgia. A sufficient number of Catholic immigrants had arrived in Charleston by the late 18th century, that Reverend Ryan, an Irish priest, was sent to the city in 1788. The Hasell Street site was purchased for the church by trustees one year later, and the congregation has worshiped here ever since. The congregation first worshiped in a dilapidated Methodist meeting house that was at the site. In 1801 the congregation constructed their own brick church. The Charleston fire of 1838 that burned much of the surrounding Ansonborough neighborhood also destroyed most of the Catholic church. The present building was completed in 1839 in the Classical Revival style. Its monumental form, elements and ornamental details are adapted from classic Roman architecture with typical Classical details such as its arched openings and Tuscan portico with a parapet.
Reflecting early French influence in the Charleston congregation, many of the tombstones in the churchyard are in French, and the parish registers were kept in that language until 1822. In 1960, the interior of the church was restored. The pews of the sanctuary are divided by a central aisle, above which are galleries on three sides. The painting that hangs over the altar was originally painted in 1814, and hung in the earlier brick church. Salvaged after the 1838 fire, the original artist, John S. Cogdell, was able to restore the painting. The works on the other walls and on the ceiling are copies of old masters, and were painted in Rome before being installed here in 1896. The vitality and growth of the church at the turn of the 20th century is evident in the numerous gifts to the church by parishioners, including a series of stained glass arched windows, and a polished marble altar.