Angel Bradford, whose family has been members of St. Teresa’s for around a century, holds a early photo of the church. Bradford said that most of the current restoration was for “basic maintenance and preservation” of the building.
ALBANY -- Historic St. Teresa's Catholic church has been restored and there will be a special Mass and open house on Nov. 13, according to church member Angel Bradford. Bradford said the Mass will begin at 3:00 p.m., with the open house immediately following. The Mass is expected to last "a little more than an hour."
According to Bradford, much of the restoration done was in the nature of basic maintenance to keep the old building in the best condition. The metal roof was "in good shape," as was the interior of the church, Bradford said.
Some sealing to stop window leaks was performed and gutters were replaced. In addition, the bricks, which are especially porous, were "repointed" and resealed to keep water from the church interior. Finally, Bradford said, a collapsed ceiling in the sacristy was replaced.
According to research by Bee McCormick, St. Teresa's "unofficial historian," construction on the church began in 1859 after Colonel Nelson Tift deeded to Rt. Rev. John Barry, Bishop of Savannah, one half acre of land on Residence Street for the purpose of erecting a Catholic Church. St. Teresa's is today the oldest church building in Albany, and the oldest Catholic church still in use in Georgia.
"He gave the same amount of land to the Methodists and the Presbyterians," McCormick said. "They didn't give it to the Baptists because they already had their land."
At the time of its construction, the little church was being served by Father O'Reilly from his headquarters in Macon. O'Reilly achieved later fame during the siege of Atlanta in 1864. According to McCormick, when he learned that General Sherman planned to burn the city, O'Reilly met with Sherman and persuaded him to spare the churches. O'Reilly warned that if Sherman burned the Catholic Church "all Catholics in the Union ranks will mutiny."
By historical accounts, although the exterior of the church was completed by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, its interior would not be finished until the defeat of the Confederacy. The church's brick shell served as a military hospital during the war, Albany's distance from the action serving as a safe location.
By the account of a 1936 history, the making of the church fell to parish volunteers. "Carpenters, brick masons and plasterers, members of the congregation, gave their time and skill to the building of the church." However, Oliver K. Lewis, engineer and chairman of the 1976 -1979 restoration of St. Teresa's, is not totally convinced.
"If so," he says, "they were very skilled volunteers indeed, as the work was done by expert craftsmen."
According to McCormick, all the bricks in today's building are original, being hand made by the slaves of Dr. Samuel Barbour on his plantation between Albany and Newton.
The research of Paul Mock, 6th generation member of St. Teresa's Church, turned up a classified ad in The Albany Patriot, date, March 8th,1860:
"Notice To Brick Layers: PROPOSALS will be received by the undersigned for the laying the brick for the CATHOLIC CHURCH in the city of Albany, until Monday, the 18th day of March. The contractor to furnish all the materials except the brick. The brick to be delivered at Dr. Barbour's Brick Yard. The plan and specifications can be seen by calling on Mr. Geo. B. King, at Albany, Ga. S. L. BARBOUR, GEO. B. KING."
Mock's great-great-great-grandfather, John V. Mock, was an early pioneer in the area. He was born in Germany and arrived in Albany in 1844. It is believed by many that the first Mass in Albany was celebrated in 1844 at the home of John Mock.
More than 20 years after it was built, the little church was finally dedicated on Nov. 19, 1882, under the patronage of St Teresa of Avila, the Spanish mystic. This is the first known record of the parish being called by this name and it is unknown why the name was chosen.
According to accounts, the dedication included a long sermon by Bishop Gross on the "pains of hell," and a ceremony marking the golden wedding anniversary of John V and Elizabeth Mock.