The year was 1933 when a connection between Swannanoa, NC and New Bedford, Mass., brought a migration of Catholics to the Carolina mountain area called “Grey Eagle” by the native Cherokee. Thanks to that influx of Catholics, St. Margaret Mary Church was founded.
A key figure in this migration was Charles D. Owen, whose family’s Beacon Manufacturing Company was part of New England’s industrial landscape. Owen purchased a farm in Swannanoa in 1923, and two years later, the plant he had built in western North Carolina began operations.
As Owen’s family business grew, so did the textile manufacturing base in the south, thereby bringing an influx of northeastern Catholics to the region. In 1933, Beacon began closing its New England plant; the relocation of equipment and personnel to Swannanoa soon followed.
In previous years, eastern Buncombe County Catholics – those already settled and those moving there – were confronted with a 20-mile round trip, mostly on unpaved roads, to go to Mass at St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville. As the roots of Beacon and other industries took hold, the need for a new Catholic church east of Asheville was realized.
In the spring of 1936, Bishop William Hafey of Raleigh purchased a plot of land in the Grovemont subdivision of Swannanoa. Benedictine Father Michael McInerney of Belmont Abbey served as architect, and a timely bequest of $15,000 by the late Kate Kelly of St. Louis through the Catholic Extension Society made possible the construction of a new church and rectory.
Bishop Hafey dedicated St. Margaret Mary Church on the 11th of October 1936. Father Joseph Federal, who later served the Diocese of Salt Lake City as bishop, was installed as first pastor. The parish boundary was designed to include four townships in eastern and southeastern Buncombe County: Swannanoa, Black Mountain, Fairview and Broad River. The latter two have since been transferred to other jurisdictions, and the parish geography currently includes Swannanoa, Black Mountain and East Asheville.
Sisters from St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines in Asheville began offering catechetical instruction for parishioners in the fall of 1936. As the parish grew over the next three decades, the need for more space became evident. Ground was broken for a multi-purpose building in 1965, with a Fellowship Hall and kitchen downstairs, and classrooms upstairs, and after a delay, the addition was dedicated by Bishop Vincent Waters in 1969. The property remains virtually the same today.
Our parish was designed by a Priest