The Catholic Church in Sanford originated in 1896 when Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Edwards moved here from Raleigh. They converted a room in their home to a chapel, where visiting priests celebrated Eucharist for the few Catholics in the area.
In the 1930s a house was purchased on Summit Drive to be used as a chapel and a priest's residence. The chapel was named St. Marcella's in honor of Miss Marcella McCormack, a New York resident who provided major funding for the purchase. In 1932, St. Marcella's was assigned its first resident pastor. Many of those participating in the Liturgy in those days were soldiers from Ft. Bragg.
In the 1940s, a second parish was established in Sanford to serve the African American Catholic population. Named Our Lady of Lourdes, it was situated in a small house on Boykin Avenue and staffed by Holy Ghost Fathers.
The Catholic community continued to grow, particularly with the migration of parishioners from northern states. In the 1960s, the two parishes were combined into St. Stephen the First Martyr Catholic Church and a church, hall, and rectory were built outside the city on Wicker Street Extension. Later, continued expansion of the parish required a major addition to the church building and the other parish facilities.
During the 1990s, the influx of Hispanic immigrants to the Sanford area, as well as continued growth in the Anglo population, resulted in a parish "bursting at the seams." Because there was no room for further expansion on the Wicker Street site, the parish sold all of its properties there except the rectory. For two years, the parish base of operations was a vacant Lowe's Hardware Store on Industrial Drive that parishioners referred to affectionately as St. Stephen South or St. Lowe's. During this time, construction was underway on an entirely new parish campus on Franklin Drive. The new facility houses offices, classrooms, and a worship space that will eventually become the social hall when a permanent church is built during Phase II ofthe building project.
St. Stephen's is a vibrant, multicultural parish made up almost entirely of people tracing their roots to other parts of North, South, and Central America. We are proud to be the Catholic presence in Lee County.