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St. William (Saint Simons Island)

Deanery: Valdosta-Brunswick
Mass Times: Saturday Vigil: 5:30 PM | Sunday: 8:00 AM, 10:30 AM
Year Established: 1929

Phone: 912-638-2647

2300 Frederica Road
Saint Simons Island, GA
County: Glynn

Catholic presence on St. Simons Island goes back to the 1500’s and began as a missionary effort to the local indians.
By 1590, Franciscan Friars had established missions along the southeast coast of Georgia, including one at San Simeon, which the Guale Indians called Mission Asao. However, because of their steadfast belief in the Christian sanctity of marriage, these Franciscans were martyred and the mission destroyed by the Guales in 1597.

After centuries of meeting in private homes for worship, good news came to the Catholic community on St. Simons Island. Through the Catholic Church Extension Society in Brooklyn, New York, a woman had allocated $5,000 for a chapel to be built on the island with two conditions. First, the chapel must be named for her late husband William, and second, an architect would have to be hired for the design. The name was approved, and architect Cormac McGarvey volunteered his services for the project. Now all that was left to do was raise money to purchase the land on which the chapel was to be built.

A card party, held at the County Casino, was organized. With donations of door prizes, ice and cakes from local merchants, $125 was raised through the sale of tickets to the entire community, Catholics and Protestants alike. Fr. Peter McOscar, pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Brunswick, secured additional capital, and the first Frederica Road property was bought from Miss Bonnie Ross. The Faithful had persevered, and their efforts were rewarded when Bishop Michael J. Keyes officially opened the doors of St. William’s Chapel in December of 1929. The small chapel stood almost directly across the street from the site of the original mission some 300 years earlier.

Visitors continued to play an important and interesting part in the history of the chapel. Besides donations of many furnishings by generous non-local benefactors (including statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, Stations of the Cross and the confessional door), the chapel can claim celebrity status also. In the mid-1930’s, actress Irene Dunn was a member of one of our Confirmation Classes; vacationing opera star Giovanni Martinelli graced the parishioners with his beautiful voice; and Joe DiMaggio volunteered as an altar server in 1950.

With growth of the parish, the chapel was enlarged to seat 298, and in 1968 St. William acquired parish status and assumed Darien’s Nativity Chapel as its mission. It was at this time that the rectory and parish hall were built further south on Frederica Road, the present location. As the parish continued to grow, it was decided to build a larger church on the new property. Bishop Raymond W. Lessard dedicated the new St. William’s Church on September 14, 1986.

It is only fitting with such a storied legacy that, in 1992, St. William’s was chosen by the Diocese of Savannah to provide a permanent home for the Pilgrim Cross celebrating 500 years of evangelization in the Americas.

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