History of Immaculate Conception Church
In 1924 the Diocese of Raleigh was established to encompass the entire state of North Carolina. Forty-eight years later, in 1972, the Diocese of Charlotte was formed to serve the western half of North Carolina, leaving the eastern half (54 counties) in the Diocese of Raleigh.
Catholic liturgies in the Carolina Beach area began in the 1920’s, when Fr. J. McCourt of St. Mary Church, Wilmington began holding Sunday liturgy once or twice a month in the homes of the Winner and Fox families. It was not until July 1, 1938 that Fr. Michael J. Begley (later to become Bishop of Charlotte) was appointed pastor of Immaculate Conception Church on Carolina Beach with St. Therese in Wrightsville Beach, NC as its mission church. In 1939, the Winner family donated a plot of land on St. Joseph Street, Carolina Beach to be used for the new Immaculate Conception Chapel/Priest’s Residence. On September 3, 1939, Bishop McGuinness, of Raleigh, dedicated the new building and Immaculate Conception started a new chapter in its history.
The Chapel seated twenty-two people and served the parish until 1954 when a new church was built on the property which seated one hundred-twenty people. This new facility was dedicated by Bishop Vincent S. Waters on April 4, 1954.
On July 4, 1982, Fr. Ernest A. Beck was appointed Administrator of Immaculate Conception Church by Bishop F. Joseph Gossman. It wasn’t until this time that a full schedule of weekend and daily liturgies and activities was introduced. In 1986, Immaculate Conception, with other area Christian churches, was instrumental in the formation of the Help Center of Federal Point to provide food, temporary lodging, clothing, medications, etc. to the needy of Carolina Beach. Originally, the food pantry was housed in the Immaculate Conception priest’s residence and although it has moved location, it is still a vital ministry of Immaculate Conception.
As the Catholic population of Carolina Beach and in the surrounding area continued to grow, it was necessary to plan for a larger church. Because a large enough tract of land could not be found on Carolina Beach, a plot had to be purchased off the island. In 1990, twenty-two acres on Carolina Beach Road was purchased by the Diocese for a new church. On March 14, 1992, Fr. Beck dedicated a way-side cross that still stands at the entrance of the church property on Carolina Beach Road.
Upon Fr. Beck’s retirement, Fr. Jim Behan, OSFS was appointed pastor on September 8, 1993. Thus began the commitment of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Wilmington, DE—Philadelphia Province—to serve Immaculate Conception. For the next year, volunteers from the parish held meetings to formulate a revised site plan of the Carolina Beach Road property to be presented to the Diocesan Real Estate Board.
A three-phased plan was submitted which included: Phase I—a building to include a multi-purpose room to be used as the temporary sanctuary and for social functions, and a wing for support rooms and offices; Phase II—a building with classrooms and meeting rooms; and Phase III—the final church.
On May 1, 1994, after forty years, the last liturgy was celebrated in the church on St. Joseph Street and services temporarily moved to a Chapel at 6336 Myrtle Grove Road. The original Chapel/Priest’s Residence and Church now function as a private residence and a gift shop called “The Checkered Church.”
The Chapel was used for daily liturgies, offices and faith formation classes with weekend liturgies held in the Carolina Beach Elementary School.
The ground breaking for the new parish building was held in 1995 and the building was dedicated on August 10, 1997 by Bishop Gossman. Some of the items from the St. Joseph Street church that adorn the present worship space are the altar, the sanctuary lamp, and the statues of Mary and Joseph. With seating for over 425 people, Immaculate Conception experienced a large influx of new households. Many of these households included school age children and the faith formation sessions started to outgrow the Myrtle Grove Chapel.
A capital campaign to raise money to build the De Sales Faith Formation Center (Phase II) was begun in 2000, in conjunction with the Diocese’s “God’s Work, Our Challenge.” Work began on the De Sales Faith Formation Center and the addition to the administration wing in 2002. Fr. Barry Strong, OSFS dedicated the new building on July 27, 2003.
Throughout Immaculate Conception’s journey, there have been a number of dedicated religious men who served the community and parish. Their work has been instrumental in both the physical and spiritual growth of the church.
Immaculate Conception is a stewardship community that has embraced tithing as a way of life. The parish continues to provide for its growing membership of over 1,055 households with over fifty ministries. The ministries provide numerous opportunities for parishioners to offer their Time, Talent and Treasure in service to our parishioners and non-parishioners alike. They not only include the Liturgical and Faith Formation ministries, but also ministries that provide social and economic support to all.
“A people, not a place, learning to live Jesus”