Our History

Our Parish History

 

Many years have passed since Josephine and Frank Greco joined with Bishop Thomas J. McDonough of the Diocese of Savannah to build a Catholic Church in Folkston, Georgia. They did not realize at first what a challenge it would become. Mr. & Mrs. Greco contacted the priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea in St. Marys, Georgia, Chap. Colonel Stephen T. Mayer USAF (Retired) to celebrate Mass in the lobby of the Folkston Motel.

The first recorded Mass said in Charlton County was on September 19, 1965. Attending the Mass were five (5) families who would become St. Francis’ first parishioners. Those attending were: Mr. & Mrs. Frank Greco, Mr. & Mrs. Richard Kuerzi, Mr. & Mrs. Ed Nash (now deceased, parents of our parishioner, Mary Fouraker), Mrs. Betty Stokes, and Mr. & Mrs. Forrest Bobbie.

Several tourists who were staying at the Howard Johnson and Folkston Motels, also attended. In those days Folkston was a very bustling town from heavy tourism due to Hwy. 301/1 being the only northern and southern route to Florida. This continued until I-95 was built which changed Folkston into almost a “ghost town”. With overflowing crowds, due to the tourism, it soon became evident that a church would be needed in which to celebrate Mass. Mr. Greco offered to buy land on which to build a church, but in 1965 no one in Folkston, Georgia would sell him land for a Catholic Church.

Determined that Catholics in Folkston would have a church in which to worship, Mr. & Mrs. Greco promised Bishop McDonough that – if he would supply a priest; they would provide – at no cost to the Diocese – a church. True to their word, the Greco’s bought an old Presbyterian church and relocated it between their two motels.​

​On a cold Christmas morning in 1965 with no pews or heat, at this time ten (10) families attended the first Mass at St. Francis of Assisi’s new Catholic Church.  Among them was Mrs. Gladys Crews & Family – (Lawanda Jones’ family).  Josephine and Frank Greco had laid the foundation for the Catholic faith in Charlton County. St. Francis became a Mission Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea in St. Marys. We still remain that little mission church, serviced by the good Parish Priest from St. Marys.

Travelers to and from Florida for the winter milder conditions began planning their trips in order to attend Mass at St. Francis due to the friendly and welcoming nature of our parishioners – which remains our main ‘draw’ for visitors today. Fr. Mayer was not shy about asking for money for the little church.

He often told the congregation that money was like cow manure; if left in a pile the manure would burn the ground, but spread around in the soil, the most beautiful plants would grow. So don’t let that money burn a hole in your pockets, reach deep and spread your money around and see what beautiful things happen!

The tourists loved the beautiful spirit that emerged from this little church and its good-natured priests and people.

And Look what grew out of that first harvest today!

​Times soon changed. Attendance was reduced drastically and the small church seemed doomed to close its doors when tourists left U.S. 301 and traveled Interstate 95 to Florida. However, because of the great faith and perseverance of a few dedicated Catholics, a wonderful retired priest from the Youngstown, Ohio Diocese, Fr. James Stevenson, took his own money to build his living quarters which were attached to the little church. These living quarters were later turned into the Social Hall for our church.

St. Francis existed at this site until our current new church was built and dedicated on December 20, 2008, exactly 33 years later. But there is a little story about the lengthy process that ensued.

In 1995, 13.96 acres of land on Highway 40, just inside the City limits of Folkston, became available for sale at the price of $55,000. Lawanda Jones, one of the first parishioners and now a local realtor, listed the property on Kingsland Drive. She contacted a few parishioners about the possibility of buying the property and giving a few acres to the church, but no luck. One day she had an interested buyer for the property. Heartbroken about the sale, she told him it  was almost sacrilegious to sell it to him because she KNEW it was supposed to be for the Catholic Church.  After that she forgot about the property. Two years later, the buyer called her and asked if her church was still interested in the property. She said she would have to check and get back to him. After contacting Fr. William Leahy, then pastor, and parishioner Emmett Boyd, who was on the Diocesan Financial Board, they contacted Bishop Boland.  The Bishop agreed to the purchase of the land.

Everyone was excited about the possibility of seeing dreams materialize in finding this beautiful piece of property that we could move our little church building onto. The congregation requested assistance in obtaining a loan through the Diocese of Savannah. Bishop Boland presented the request to the Finance Board and they approved a loan of $45,000. In the year of 2000, a year for forgiveness of debts from the poor (and that sure included us), known as the Great Jubilee, Bishop Boland forgave our debt. We immediately started a building fund to move our building! After purchasing the land, Herb Murray cleared the property and a sign was purchased by Bill Wilson (now our Deacon). The sign placed on the property was “Future Home of St. Francis of Assisi”.

Changes in laws over the years prohibited moving the building unless we cut the roof off and brought the building up to code after re-location. It was determined that the fragile little building couldn’t make the move. Plans then began to formulate for building a new building on the purchased property. While the Greco’s couldn’t buy land years ago, today a new church has been erected.

The parishioners of St. Francis were excited about continuing the work began by the Grecos on our new site. On October 4, 2001 they received a three year fund drive approval from Bishop Boland. The drive was extremely successful. The then 62 families provided a total of $222,342.44 for their building fund.

Many outside the parish contributed directly to the cause. Every parish within the Diocese also contributed. A grant from the Extension Society in the amount of $100,000.00 was obtained by Bishop Boland. We were blessed indeed with the concern and support of many people that knew of the situation and needs in this small parish.

Currently our parishioners consist of one percent of the local population, yet we contribute greatly to our community.  From our parish, four members have been recognized as Citizen of the Year, one as a Star Teacher, numerous leaders of various civic organizations, prominent business owners and decorated veterans of our military.    Additionally, many of our Parish members are leaders in the Catholic Crusillo movment, hospital and nursing home ministries, prison ministry at D. Ray James Correctional Facility, along with several other outreach programs established by our members to serve the needs of our growing community.

On Sunday June 16th, 2013, Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of the Diocese of Savannah appointed Fr. Paul O'Connell the new pastor  St. Francis of Assisi.    

Effective August 23rd 2015, Bishop Hartmayer officially installed Father Mariusz Fuks as Pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in St. Marys GA as well as its mission Parish St. Francis of Assisi in Folkston.

Effective August 1st 2019, Bishop Hartmayer announced clergy transfers and appointed Father Jacob Almeter as Pastoral Assistant of Our Lady Star of the Sea as well as St. Francis of Assisi.