Before there was a Catholic church in Thomasville, there were Catholics. Through lively faith, zeal, and hard work along with God’s grace, we are now celebrating 60 plus years at Our Lady of the Highways.
Each summer in the late 1940’s, players of the Hi-Toms baseball team added to the Catholics and this lead to the first celebration of Mass in our city. During the summer, Mass was offered in Thomasville at the Green Funeral Home and the Women’s Club by Fr. Robert MacMillan of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish of High Point.
Mrs. Hazel Cardiff, a woman with great zeal for the Church, led a drive to have a place for worship on a year-round basis. She convinced Bishop Vincent Waters to arrange for Masses to be said in a rental home at 15 College Street in Thomasville. After alterations, the house had its first Mass celebrated on Friday, June 6, 1951 by Fr. Robert MacMillan. He passed the nameless mission chapel to Fr. Hugh Kennedy, the Thomasville Catholic community’s first Pastor, on June 8, 1951. This chapel, was named St. Thomas A. Becket on December 27, 1951 and was a mission of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish of Lexington for until late 1958.
Fr. Lawrence J. Hill, the new Pastor, assisted by his twin brother Clarence Hill, drew up the fist plans in 1953 for a permanent building. Bishop Waters chose the present site for the church. The three and one half acre location was purchased and a congregation of some forty persons constructed the church at a cost of over $50,000.00. In 1953, the cornerstone was cut. As stated in the church registry by Fr. Lawrence Hill, the new church was named Our Lady of the Highways and was dedicated by Bishop Waters on June 27, 1954 at 11:00 a.m. in 104 degree heat with Fr. John Cardiff, brother-in-law of Hazel Cardiff, giving the sermon, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary choir adding to the celebration.
The first service in the new building was the reading of St. John’s Passion of Our Lord at 2:30 p.m. on Good Friday, April 16, 1954. Mass was celebrated at 9:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1954.
Our Lady of the Highways remained a parish mission of Lexington until late 1958 becoming a mission parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in early 1959. In April, 1968, Our Lady of the Highways became the mission of Our Lady of the Rosary in Lexington again. Fr. Ron McLoughlin was pastor until June 30, 1970.
On July 2, 1970, Bishop Waters received help from the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and Our Lady of the Highways became a full parish in its own right. Fr. William Stahl, O.S.F.S. was appointed the first permanent pastor and served two terms from July, 1970 to July, 1975 and then from June, 1976 until his retirement in August, 1977.
Fr. Stahl was a spiritual and spirited priest and remembered as an excellent pastor. In his two terms as pastor more than half of the Marriages and First Holy Communions as well as almost half of the Baptisms performed at Our Lady of the Highways were done by Fr. Stahl. In his first term, the parish acquired a real church organ, and in his second term, our church debt was paid in full. The church grew from 17 to 72 families during his time as pastor.
From July, 1975 – 1977, Fr. William Lyman, O.S.F.S. served as interim pastor. Then in August, 1977 Fr. John Murphy, O.S.F.S. was appointed pastor. He established a picnic shelter, a mobile home for CCD classrooms, and increased the parish membership to 95 families; 40% were converts.
In 1984 a Spanish Language Mass was added for the Spanish-speaking parishioners and for the migrants of the area. Our educational, social, and worship space kept getting tighter by late 1985. After many hours of planning for over 3 years, with Diocesan approval, construction of a parish hall and rectory began. On September 17, 1989, The Hazel Cardiff Parish Center and La Casa Stahl Rectory were dedicated by Bishop John Donahue. These two buildings, at a cost of over $400,000.00 gave the educational and social space that was needed for the now 163 families.
In 1989, the parish experienced a year of physical and spiritual growth. Through the involvement of active parishioners, the R.C.I.A. process helped new converts to become members of our church. The parish choir was established and has improved our worship and praise. Our CCD program and Knights of Columbus are other ways the Spirit of God moves us to be people of His action.
Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, O.S.F.S. was appointed third permanent pastor in August, 1977. Under the guidance of Fr. Tom, in late 2000, a drive was begun to raise $150.000.00 to remodel the interior of the church and add more seating space. The interior was refurbished with beautiful stained glass windows replacing most of the original windows. Two restrooms were added along with a Cry Room and Sacristy. Seating space was increased to accommodate the parish membership of 250 registered families.
In September, 2007, Fr. James M. Turner, O.S.F.S. was appointed fourth permanent pastor at Our Lady of the Highways. He has greatly enhanced the maintenance of our church, parish hall, and rectory, as well as bringing computers and a secretary to the parish office. As the parish grows, currently at 850 families, Fr. Jim faces the challenges of more classrooms and meeting places, as well as ministering to a very large Hispanic population.
May God continue to bless Our Lady of the Highways parish!!!