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 | By Mary D. Dillard

Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church

The Catholic presence in Morgan County in north Alabama was first recorded shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War in 1867 when St. Ann Mission was founded under the patronage of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In those years, the town of Decatur was situated along the Tennessee River, and once a month, a Benedictine priest would travel by horseback from Our Lady of the Shoals in Tuscumbia to its fledgling mission along the river for Mass. By 1870, the faithful had acquired a “small frame building on Alabama Street,” which was dedicated that same year by Father John Bassen.

As with all progress, change is inevitable. Decatur welcomed the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, shifting the town’s epicenter south and the Catholic population along with it. Eventually, the mission’s building was moved to Vine Street in a lot purchased by the Albes family and was then enlarged in 1885.

A few years before the turn of the century, St. Ann was elevated to a parish with Benedictine Father Theodosius Osterreider as the first pastor. His tenure was short-lived, making way for Father Michael Henry, a diocesan priest, as the second pastor. The new shepherd spearheaded the purchase of a parcel of land from the Decatur Land Company on the corner of 4th Avenue and Johnston Street. The parish and Father Henry didn’t waste any time, for the new church was completed in 1906. The building was described as a “noble monument to the labors and sacrifices of Father Henry and the congregation.” A testament to the pastor and his congregation, history records the completion of the church was “aided by the generosity of their non-Catholic friends of Decatur.”

Over the next fifty years, Fathers James McDermott, Joseph Sheridan, Edward Shea, George Moeller, Cornelius Kennedy, James Howard, Patrick Joseph Buckley, and Dan O’Reilly would all faithfully serve St. Ann’s as pastor. In 1954, Father John Horgan took over the reins, seeing through the completion of several building projects including the parish’s school, a convent, and a new parish hall. After seventeen years as pastor, Father Horgan was succeeded by Father Peter Sheehan until Father Patrick O’Donoghue was appointed to lead the congregation in 1973.

It was during Father O’Donoghue’s pastorate that the Hartselle community saw great growth. In 1977, the community worked to organize Holy Family Church as a mission of St. Ann’s. From the time of its founding to the time of the church building’s completion, Father O’Donoghue said Mass for the faithful in Hartselle at the local Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Once Bishop Joseph Vath, the First Bishop of Birmingham, broke ground in September of 1980, the community didn’t waste any time building the 40x70 foot space.

The parish would go on to thrive, building a parish hall and classrooms, but in 1998, Bishop David E. Foley, the Third Bishop of Birmingham, made a decision to better serve the Catholics in Morgan County. By merging St. Ann’s and Holy Family, local Catholics in the area would be served by a new parish: Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church. The land for the new parish was purchased in 2000 and the first Mass was celebrated in the new facility in 2003.

The parish’s new campus included St. Ann’s Catholic school, a church office, meeting spaces, as well as a multi-purpose room. The original intention was to hold Mass in the multi-purpose room temporarily until the church building could be constructed, yet with over twenty years past and gone, Mass is still being celebrated in the “temporary” space. While the space was made suitable for the celebration of the Mass, the congregation wished to create a more suitable space to house the Lord for eucharistic adoration.

In 2020, a group of parishioners came together to make the parish’s St. Joseph Chapel a reality. Taking the group’s lead, parishioners offered monetary donations, spearheaded fundraisers, and donated labor. Amazingly, this building was completely paid for through their efforts.

Today, Annunciation of the Lord parish is the sixth largest in the diocese consisting of more than 1,000 families, 60% of which are Spanish speaking. Even with six Masses each weekend, the multi-purpose room is no longer sufficient to house the large and continually growing congregation. Realizing the great need, Bishop Raica granted the parish permission to begin a building campaign for a permanent church building.

While the parish consists of various cultural traditions, Deacon Lou Sciaroni, one of Annunciation’s permanent deacons, points out that even though parishioners might not speak the same language, “we all worship the same God and carry a desire to give Him glory through our worship and our work.” United in that noble goal, the parish named their capital campaign “Building Bridges, Building Faith.”

The parish’s proposed new church will seat approximately 1,000 people at the cost of close to $16 million. Before construction can begin, however, half of the estimated cost needs to be raised. The parish has set an ambitious goal to raise the $8 million needed in just five years. Using the same model as the one used to build the adoration chapel, the parish plans on holding numerous events, especially Kermes fundraisers, featuring food, music, and fun.

As the only parish in Morgan County takes its first steps toward its long-awaited permanent church, it is the prayer of the diocese that the faithful of Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church will be empowered to continue being a witness to the beauty of the Catholic faith to those they encounter in north Alabama.

To learn more about upcoming parish events or to learn how to contribute to the new church building, please call the parish at 256-353-2667 or visit their Facebook page at