St. Thomas More Parish, founded in 1940, started as a mission in 1922, first of Durham and later of the Catholic Orphanage near Raleigh. That fall, six or seven Catholics worshipped in a second-floor room on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus. Before World War II, the number of Catholics grew slowly. By 1934, there were 175 Catholic students at the University, at least one Catholic professor, and a handful of local people. This small group worshipped for many years on the second floor of Graham Memorial. Beginning in 1940, Chapel Hill was designated a parish, and in 1942, the U.S. Navy Pre-flight School brought a large number of Catholic cadets to the campus. Mass was celebrated in the Hill Hall auditorium.
After the war, services were held in Gerrard Hall. The Catholic community grew rapidly and it became imperative that a church be built to accomodate it. Spearheaded by Navy pre-flight officers and cadets, at the suggestion of Commanding Officer O.O. Kessing and by William D. Carmichael, Jr., Vice President and Finance Officer, who had been one of only three Catholic students as an undergraduate, a building fund was established.
A Gothic Revival church was built on Gimghoul Road for 350 people on land donated by W.D. Carmichael, Sr. Designed by Andrews and McGready, the church was dedicated on March 31, 1957. In 1964, St. Thomas More School was added to the parish on nearby land also donated by the Carmichaels, and it opened with 100 students. By 1986 there were 340 pupils in the school, and in the 2006-07 school year there were 457 students.
Diocesan priests of the Diocese of Raleigh have pastored the parish since its inception. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, have served the school and church community for over 30 years.
On Pentecost Sunday in 1997, ground was broken on our current site for a new and larger church adjacent to the school. Simultaneously, more classrooms were added to the school, allowing it to expand to the eighth grade. The new church was dedicated on December 12, 1998.
During the past decade, the Catholic Community of St. Thomas More has grown in membership, especially in our Hispanic population. Our Hispanic Ministry was formally established in 2000-01. In 1990 our membership was 1400 households, and at the end of 2006 was 2900 households. The number of ministries and groups in the parish has flourished, and the number of staff has grown to better serve our community.
Our Faith Development program has also experienced much growth, with a peak enrollment of 820 students in 2006-07. In 2006-07, the Faith Development program integrated its program with our Hispanic community, established bilingual family retreats for sacramental preparation, began translating all letters and documents into Spanish, and established regular meetings with Hispanic parents to convey information and to hear their concerns.
Another way in which the Catholic Community of St. Thomas More has experienced extraordinary change is with its use of technology. The parish website has improved tremendously. We use a number of web-based platforms to better communicate with and understand our membership, particularly with our electronic monthly newsletter, MORE News and Links, and Member Login, which enables parishioners to view and update their parish records online 24/7.
With all this growth came a responsibility to provide facilities that would allow us to fulfill our mission to worship, teach, and serve. We began the New Building Project so our facilities would meet those needs. The ONE Campaign, begun in 2006, raised $6.75 million in pledges to fund this extraordinary project. The new facilities, dedicated on October 23, 2010, included a new social hall, renovation of the church building, improved parking and driveway, an Art and Music Building for the School, a new gymnasium and athletic fields, and a columbarium. These new and renovated spaces have proven tremendously popular, and with each successive year more individuals from within and beyond our faith community gather at St Thomas More to worship, learn, play, celebrate and serve in myriad ways which build relationships and grow God’s Kingdom.