Parish History

There may be some doubt about the real meaning of the name Swannanoa, but it unquestionably was “Beautiful Valley” on that day in 1923 when Charles D. Owen saw it from a train window. He bought an available farm, and the new plant he built for his family’s growing Beacon Manufacturing Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts began operating in 1925. No one then realized that the need for a Catholic church in the area was born with the start-up of that plant.

But in 1933, during what became the mass movement of textile plants to the South, Beacon started closing the New England plant and began the tremendous project of transferring all the essential equipment and personnel to Swannanoa. The move brought into the valley descendants of a variety of European immigrants with names new to the mountains like Fontaine, Oliver, Lemieux and Vallaincourt, accompanied by various traditions, but notably Roman Catholic. Since the Catholics faced a 20-mile round trip on largely unpaved roads to and from the nearest Catholic Church, St. Lawrence in downtown Asheville, the need for a church in Swannanoa became an urgent fact.

Bishop W. J. Hafey of Raleigh answered the need with the purchase (for only $500) of a 2 ½ acre lot in the Grovemont subdivision of Swannanoa, the highest site in the area and originally intended as the location of a hotel. Benedictine Brother Michael McInerney was available as architect and a timely bequest of $15,000 by the late Kate Kelly of St. Louis, through the Catholic Extension Society of Chicago, provided more than sufficient construction funds. The church and rectory were built by Southeast Construction Company of Charlotte for a modest $13,000. With Fr. Joseph L. Federal, who later served as bishop of Salt Lake City, as pastor, the parish was instituted on September 9th and dedicated by Bishop Hafey on October 11, 1936. The parish had extensive boundaries, including the townships of Swannanoa, Black Mountain, Fairview, and Broad River. The latter two have since been given to other jurisdictions.

In October of 1965, ground was broken for a planned two-story brick addition, but completion of the construction was delayed for a number of reasons including financing. After a delay of several years, financing was completed with the co-operation of Arnold Jones the builder, funds accumulated by the pastor, Father Henry J. Becker, and a loan from Mrs. Elizabeth Peterson. Bishop Vincent S. Waters dedicated the $37,000 structure on April 27th, 1969. Shortly thereafter, the lot across the street from the church was donated for church parking by owners Mr. and Mrs. Alfred J. Magnant, and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Stone.

St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church celebrated its 75th Anniversary on October 2, 2011 with a community picnic in Grovemont Park.