The History of St. Eugene Parish
Bearing Good Fruits
Not quite 75 years ago, a faithful and determined group of people established a Roman Catholic Parish in eastern Wake County, North Carolina. Some of the staunchest advocates of that parish were new to this country and, upon their arrival--and in the ensuing years since--they encountered differences and even resistance to their language, culture, and traditions.
The one constant in their lives that offered a common kinship with their American counterparts was their deeply-rooted Roman Catholic religious faith. The practice of their commonly-held beliefs created a sense of community and common purpose among the diverse backgrounds that populated this area of North Carolina.
Today, the parish that those diverse cultures built welcomes an even more diverse community, building upon an already impressive commitment to deep faith and common purpose.
The parish today celebrates the wonderful ability of a Catholic community to embrace both the common faith and cultural differences of its members in a way that spreads God's love.
How It All Started
Establishing a church takes a considerable amount of time, effort, and devoted individuals who are keen on sharing their faith. The foundation of Saint Eugene Catholic Church rests on the spiritual bricks and mortar laid by several devoted individuals and the hand of the Lord. The story of Saint Eugene begins on July 15, 1916, with Mr. and Mrs. Isaac and Zahiya Kannon, and Eunice Kannon, the first Catholics in Wendell.
They moved from Raleigh’s Sacred Heart Cathedral after their arrival in the United States from Lebanon in 1905.
In 1918, Mr. and Mrs. Namy and Julia Joseph became the second founding family. They offered their living room for Mass. Bishop Waters of the Diocese of Raleigh sent a succession of four priests: Fathers Robert F. McMillan, John A. Beschel, Jerome Hickey, and James H. Tevlin.
Mass was held in the Josephs’ living room until 1946 when it was moved to the Wendell Women’s Club. Fr. Jerome Hickey proposed the idea of building a church in Wendell. Mr. and Mrs. Preacher Todd owned a lot on U.S. Highway 64, which would become the church’s future location.
The First Mass
The first Mass in the new church took place in 1947, and on August 1, 1948, the church was dedicated. There were 51 parishioners. Fr. Frederick A. Koch was the first resident priest. Membership growth was slow from 1947 to 1975. The average Sunday attendance included only 57 parishioners.
On September 1, 1975, Fr. Michael Shugrue and parishioner Ed Kannon helped purchase 20 acres to build a new church. Fr. Joe Gaul completed the first phase of the 20-year master building plan in time for the church dedication, which was held on November 18, 1990. The church was spiritual home to 584 parishioners; Church membership had doubled from 1982 to 1986. (Pastor Scott Carpenter turned the old church building on Highway 64 into the White Dove Wedding Chapel in 1998.)
The First International Food Festival
In 2002, the seeds of the International Food and Music Festival were planted with the arrival of a missionary pastoral team from Missionhurst CICM: To bring the parish together and ignite a new spark of life within our church community, Fr. Charles Phukuta Khonde, CICM suggested a festival based on the food of our parishioners’ diverse backgrounds.
The first International Food and Music Festival was held in September 2003 after months of planning and preparation. Over the years, changes have been made to the festival: more food booths, a silent auction, improved kids’ games, a food drive, and notable musical entertainments.
In 2011, the festival was named a “Best Local Festival” nominee in Triangle East magazine.
As of 2021, Saint Eugene parish is spiritual home to about 930 registered families. So far, two parishioners from our parish have been called to vocations: Fr. Frank Seabo, who currently serves the Diocese of Charlotte, and Chris Johnson, who is now a Brother with the Capuchin Franciscan Order in Philadelphia.
We give thanks to God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon our church family and the community of Wendell.
(Author: Maggie Smith, updated/edited by Gail Hernandez)