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St. Francis of Assisi Church
The church that would become St. Francis of Assisi was originally built in 1899 as a Presbyterian
In the 1950s, the dozen-or-so Catholics of Ashe County were celebrating Mass on a portable altar
in living rooms, basements, inns and a courthouse with Diocese of Raleigh priests traveling from
North Wilkesboro. When the Catholics reached about 30, Bishop Vincent Waters of Raleigh saw
the need for a church building and the Presbyterian church was purchased for $12,000 in 1962.
St. Francis of Assisi Church came into being at a formal dedication ceremony Aug. 27, 1963.
Located near the Virginia and Tennessee state lines, the parish began as a mission of St. Elizabeth
Church in Boone, with priests of the Glenmary Home Missioners serving there from the mid-1960s
until 1999. Today, St. Francis of Assisi is a parish with a mission church of its own -- St. Frances of
Rome in Sparta.
In the early 1970s, parishioners contributed to building a basement apartment for then-pastor
Glenmary Father Robert Cameron.
To keep up with the growing number of parishioners, Glenmary Father John Otterbacher oversaw
the completion of expansion plans that included an addition on the basement level, including
offices, a social hall, meeting rooms, a kitchen and restrooms. Bishop John F. Donoghue, then-
bishop of Charlotte, performed a dedication of the new hall on Sept. 25, 1985.
Three years later, Glenmary Father Roland Hautz became pastor. To minister to the growing
Hispanic community, Glenmary Lay Missioners Libby Colville and Marilyn Riehle arrived;
Glenmary Father Joseph Waters, then pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Taylorsville, began saying
Mass in Spanish at the church.
In 1990, a home next to the church was purchased and converted into a rectory, but more space was
needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of parishioners. In September 1994, renovation
work was accomplished, complete with a new main altar, Blessed Sacrament table and stained glass
windows, all of which were made by St. Francis of Assisi parishioners.
Because of its location in a veritable hikers' paradise, the St. Francis of Assisi congregation grows
tremendously during the summer months. Father Hautz, himself an avid hiker, said there are more
than 400 miles of marked hiking trails within 90 minutes of Jefferson. Both the Appalachian Trail
and the Blue Ridge Parkway pass through Ashe County.
Also popular in the area is the Christmas tree industry. Native to Jefferson is the Fraser Fir, "the
Cadillac of Christmas trees" according to Father Hautz.
In 1999, Father Mark Lawlor became the first Diocese of Charlotte priest to pastor the church. He
served until 2003, when Father C. Morris Boyd became administrator.

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