Who Built St Mary’s Church?
The Census in 1782 showed that there were 365 Catholics living in Belfast. At that time, there was no Catholic Church in the City.
The Presbyterian and Church of Ireland communnities took up a special collection at their services – the Handsome Collection – and made a gift of the monies donated to build the first Catholic Church in Belfast – St Mary’s Chapel Lane. The generosity of the Presbyterian and Church of Ireland people of Belfast demonstrates the unprecedented religious tolerance of that time.
It was on Sunday, 30th May 1784 that Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new church of St. Mary’s for the first time by Father Hugh O’Donnell, first Parish Priest of Belfast.
A sister church was built – St Mary’s on the Hill in Whiteabbey. And Father O’Donnell would mount his horse after saying Mass in Belfast and ride on horseback to Whiteabbey to say Mass there.
Our still cherished and beautiful pulpit was donated to St Mary’s by the Vicar of Belfast, Canon Turner, of the Anglican Church in High Street in 1813.
The spirit of co-operation and support between the churches wa
s reflected in the celebration of each new christian baby. It was common place for a baby to be baptised in St Mary’s Church, and then for the family to go to the Church of Ireland.