The history of the Catholic community in Tifton can be traced to the 1920s when diocesan priests from Albany occasionally visited and offered Mass in the homes of parishioners. In 1929 at the request of Bishop Michael J. Keyes of the Diocese of Savannah, Father Thomas A. Brennan of Albany bought the land on which the church is currently located. It would be 24 years before a permanent church was built.
Sunday Mass began to be celebrated on a regular basis with the arrival of Franciscan Friars in 1943. Father Godfrey Weitekamp, OFM, was the first of many friars to serve the Tifton area from the Americus friary. His first Mass drew four people (Mr. & Mrs. George Sumner, Bob Meyers and Lawrence McCauley) to the Tifton Courthouse. The location was changed to the Tifton’s Women’s Club building on 12th and Central, where Mass was celebrated for the next 11 years. Priests and parishioners discussed the need for a permanent church.
The Franciscans faced difficult challenges in Tifton with long distances to travel and scattered Catholics. Mass at the Women’s Club offered none of the comforts that a church building would offer. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Parishioners knelt on the floor, a portable altar was rolled out into the middle of a large room and confessions were heard in a small off-room. In 1946, fundraising for a church building got underway. By way of barbecues and spaghetti dinners the initial funds were generated. In the late 1940s, The Franciscans held missions lasting several days at a time. At these gatherings, the Sacred Liturgy helped bring the community together spiritually. By 1952, over $5,000 had been gathered in cash and pledges to help build the new church. Each family pledged $200. With $10,000 received from Catholic Extension Society in Chicago, construction on the church began in 1953. THe original cost was just over $22,400. Father Raynor A. Dray, OFM, who later became pastor, celebrated the first Mass in the church on December 20, 1953. Auxiliary Bishop Francis E. Hyland, who in 1956 was declared the first ordinary of the Diocese of Atlanta, formally dedicated the church on February 2, 1954.
Many Franciscan friars continued to serve the church for 50 years. Father Fred Kirchner added rummage sales, cake sales, bingo and pecan sales as fundraisers and in 1962 a parish hall was added to the church building. By 1965, the first resident priest, Father Martin Bangert, arrived and lived in the small rectory, jokingly calling it the “Tifton Hilton”. In 1970, Father Raymond Govern, OFM was assigned to Tifton and served there until poor health forced him to retire in 1976. This retirement brought about the return of Father Dray, who shortly after being reassigned to Tifton began the construction of a religious education building which was added in 1977 and dedicated to Father Govern.
In the late 1970s, Our Divine Saviour Parish grew tremendously as many Catholic families moved to Tifton. This growth, plus the growth in the number of tourists, packed the church and the parish hall during Sunday Mass. In 1981, the parish began a new drive to expand the existing church. Construction began in 1982, and during the expansion period, weekend Masses were held in the chapel of Tift Area Funeral Home. On April 17, 1983, Father Fred Nijem, V.F., as Bishop Raymond W. Lessard’s representative in the Albany Deanery, blessed the expanded church.
Later, in 1983, Father Raynor was transferred to New England. Father Authur Murray, OFM, took Father Raynor’s place and served until he retired in 1987. Father Roch Coogan, OFM, succeeded him. In 1991, parishioners became aware of the growing number of Hispanic Catholics in the area. Father Raul Perez of Cordele celebrated the first Spanish Mass in July 1991. At first, Father Raul celebrated the Spanish Mass monthly, then bimonthly, and after December 1996, on weekly basis. The diocese resumed responsibility for the parish in 1993. Father James Kirchner served Our Divine Saviour Parish from February 1995 until January 1999. Father Justin R. Ferguson was assigned to the parish on July 2, 2012. Effective September 1, 2017, Father Peter Oyenugba, MSP, was assigned to Our Divine Saviour Church of Tifton and its mission church St Ann’s of Alapaha.