Friday, May 18, 2007

A Tar Heel Saint?

Down in North Carolina, a new push for the canonization of the state's first native-born priest, a co-founder of the Maryknoll communities.

Oh, and he was the son of a journalist:
The Rev. Thomas Frederick Price -- best known for co-founding the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, popularly known as Maryknoll -- got his start evangelizing in the eastern half of North Carolina.

His cause is now being advanced by the Maryknoll order, based in Ossining, N.Y. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh is assisting and asking people who may have original letters or knowledge of his reputation to step forward.

Though Price's cause has been advanced before, the upcoming 100th anniversary of the order in 2011 is precipitating the latest push, said the Rev. William D. McCarthy, a Maryknoll priest and historian. Sainthood is also being sought for Price's partner in founding the society, the Rev. James A. Walsh.

"Their memories are important to our society as inspirational figures and missionaries," said McCarthy.

Born in 1860 to a Catholic mother and an Episcopal father, Price grew up at a time when there were few Catholics in the state. Ordained in 1886, Price's first assignment was in New Bern, but he traveled by horse and buggy to 17 other startup congregations, including ones in Newton Grove and Goldsboro. He eventually received permission to travel the state and make the case for Catholicism.

As the son of an editor -- Price's father, Alfred, was editor of Wilmington's first daily newspaper, The Daily Journal -- Price knew something about publishing. In 1897, he launched his own magazine, titled Truth.

The purpose of the monthly was to correct misunderstandings about Catholicism common among Southerners, most of whom were Protestants suspicious of religious hierarchy. The cost for 12 issues was 50 cents for Catholics, and 35 cents for non-Catholics. Price wrote a column for each issue.

"He was ordained at a time when anti-Catholicism was really revving up," said the Rev. Jim F. Garneau, the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Mount Olive, who has studied Price's life.

But publicity wasn't Price's only gift. In 1896, he bought a chunk of land off Western Boulevard in Raleigh and built a large orphanage for 100 children, which was run by his sister, Catherine, a nun with the Sisters of Mercy. The area, centered at Western Boulevard and Avent Ferry, was called "mission valley" -- now the name of a shopping center.