A History of the Shrine
In the mid 1940s, there were few African-American Catholics in central Baldwin County. Father Vincent Warren, S.S.J., a “man of tireless zeal” and pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary in Mobile, organized volunteer CCD girls from Bishop Toolen High School to travel to the Daphne area to provide religious instruction. A significant number of conversions took place.
In 1947, the diocese purchased ten acres of land. With the help of the Catholic Church Extension Society, a Quonset hut church with a Spanish type front was erected. The Shrine of the Holy Cross was dedicated October 16, 1948, with Father Warren as the founding pastor (1948-1960). Among the early members were Wally Valrie, Mrs. Lizzie Hamilton, Frances and Alberta Thomas, and Angelina Johnson.
In 1949, a school for area African-American children was opened in a converted dance hall and tavern with Franciscan Sisters from Baltimore as teachers. By 1950, fifty-five students attended the school; by 1955, 230. A new brick school was built in 1955. The school closed in 1966.
Father Warren and his volunteer girls also provided instructions in Bromley where Mass was offered in the home of John Williams, a convert, until St. John Church was dedicated on May 17, 1953, on land donated by Herman Sledge.
In May 1955, Father Warren indicated the number of Catholics at Daphne and Bromley as “close to 300 souls – all converts.” Among the converts was Joseph L. Howze, a native of Daphne and later the founding Bishop of the Diocese of Biloxi.
Father Albert Colbert, S.S.J., the pastor in 1979, credited the parish’s growth not only to the priests and religious who labored there, but especially to the generosity in time and interest of the people of the area, parishioners and non-parishioners alike.
In 1991, Jesuits replaced the Josephites. In 2001, archdiocesan priests took charge of the parish. Father Lito Capeding is the present pastor, since 2009.
The Shrine of the Holy Cross is now a faith community welcoming all to the ministries of word, worship, and service offered there to the glory of God’s name. The parish continues to serve St. John Mission in Bromley.