Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Catholic seminary in Macon?

Parishioner Pete Konekamp, a veteran radio journalist, shared this on Facebook earlier today. It's posted here with his permission. A fascinating tidbid of Georgia Catholic history:

[Photo courtesy Pete Konekamp]
Throwback Thursday takes a detour off the main road and deep into the woods of north Macon. There, in the woods off Forest Hill Road, is more Georgia history you never knew.

In the late 1800's, Jesuit priests operated a seminary off a street in Macon named for Pope Pius IX. Pio Nono Avenue. The seminary, originally called Pio Nono College was dedicated in 1873. 

Renamed St. Stanislaus College, it burned to the ground in 1921. With that, all traces of the seminary disappeared. Or did they? The Jesuits established a retreat site on what was then, a hundred acres of pristine Georgia woodland. The retreat had a swimming pool, a path on which to pray the Stations of the Cross and statues of the saints. Only one statue, of St. Peter, remains. It was toppled by vandals years ago and its head shattered. 

In the early 20th century, the land was purchased by North Winship, US Ambassador to South Africa. Winship lovingly preserved the site. On his death in 1965, the property fell into ruin and Winship's house was destroyed by fire. On the site there is a graffiti covered grotto, that once held a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The grotto remains, as slowly but surely, this once beautiful piece of history fades from view. Adjacent to it, is an apartment complex. It is surrounded by houses and consumed by vegetation. There is an effort underway to save the grotto but it hasn't gained much traction.

I first wrote about the grotto 40 years ago. The only thing that's changed in all that time, is the site has continued to deteriorate. If you are so inclined, see it while you can. Fall is the best time to visit, because the vegetation has died off and the insects and snakes are in hiding.

[Photo courtesy Pete Konekamp]
Doing some digging around the Interwebs, I found a reference to a little report in the New York Times from May 3, 1874 (PDF available online for free), on the ceremony where the corner-stone was laid for Pio Nono College, saying that the college would be the largest Catholic college in the South. It describes the procession as containing the Bishop of Savannah, priests, the Mayor and councilmen and twenty five religious, civil and military organizations, and a huge crowd! I always wondered where Pio Nono Avenue (pronounced by the locals as "pie-o nono"!)  in Macon came from.

Of course the jewel of Catholic Macon is St. Joseph Church, also built by the Jesuits. [Sadly, I simply cannot picture the SJs building anything quite so beautiful today ... ]. That deserves another post, perhaps after a new visit to this stunningly beautiful church ...


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