The Catholic population in North Georgia traces its beginnings to a little mission in Locust Grove where a small group of faithful from Charles County, Maryland began worshiping sometime between 1790 and 1792. Ever since they built their first log cabin church in 1800, eight years before the Archdiocese of Baltimore was established, the Catholic population has experienced steady growth. By 1824 the church was referred to as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in 1826 was incorporated by an act of the Georgia General Assembly. In 1850 the Catholics in Georgia and parts of Florida became the Diocese of Savannah. By the time of the Civil War, there were 4,000 Catholics in Georgia, with parishes in Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, Columbus and Locust Grove.
After the war, the city of Atlanta and the Catholic population continued to grow. In 1848 the first Catholic Church in Atlanta, the Immaculate Conception, was used as a hospital during the Civil War. Immaculate Conception’s present church was built between 1869 and 1880. The church became a Shrine in 1954 and later, in 1984, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, originally known as Saints Peter and Paul until 1898, was established in 1880 when Atlanta only had 37,409 souls. Also in 1880, the Sisters of Mercy opened an infirmary on Baker Street, later becoming Saint Joseph Hospital. Saint Anthony of Padua Parish was later established in 1903, adding a school in 1912, the same year that Our Lady of Lourdes Parish was formed.
The Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta
In 1936, the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta was established along with the Cathedral of Christ the King on Peachtree Street. Bishop Gerald P. O’Hara (b.1895-d.1963), appointed Bishop of Savannah in 1935, was the last Bishop to serve the faithful of Georgia.
The Diocese of Atlanta
The Diocese of Atlanta was established in 1956, separating the northern 71 counties of Georgia from the Diocese of Savannah. Two counties later returned to the jurisdiction of the Savannah Diocese. At the time, the Diocese of Atlanta covered 23,000 square miles, numbered 23,600 Catholics in 23 parishes and 12 missions, with the total population in the region being 1,800,000. The first Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta was Francis E. Hyland (1901 – 1968), who first served as Auxiliary Bishop of Savannah since 1949. He began his service to the new diocese as the city of Atlanta and the Catholic population of the area was experiencing rapid growth. Bishop Hyland resigned in 1961.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta
On February 21, 1962 the Diocese of Atlanta was elevated to the status of Archdiocese, becoming the center of an Ecclesiastical Province and included the states of Georgia, North and South Carolina and Florida. (Florida was detached in 1969 to become the Province of Miami). That year the Catholic population of the diocese numbered 32,000 out of a total population of 2,152,000. When the Diocese of Atlanta became the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the ecclesiastical Province of Atlanta came into being as well.