A Catholic community established a church on the James C. Murray farm 2.6 miles from Alapaha in about 1840. James Murray and his wife, Jane, were both born in Ireland. The Murray family appears on the 1850 U.S. Census for Irwin (later Berrien) County and in the 1860 U.S. Census for Berrien County. The oldest child, Elizabeth, who married Matthew Rowe, was born in 1842. The Catholic community was then known as St. Patrick’s and was commonly called “Murray Church”. Fr. James Carroll, SM, in 1898, mentions the fact that there was a small log cabin church surrounded by a Catholic cemetery, some distance from the railroad station in Alapaha.
Murray Cemetery is all that physically remains to remind us of the little log cabin church. As it was difficult to remain Catholic under these conditions, many descendants of these early worshippers are now Protestant, and both Protestants and Catholics are involved in the annual cleanup effort of Murray Cemetery. People still remember the ornate wooden covering over the graves. Ben & Nancy Gray Moore, buried in 1939, were the last to be buried there. The Murrays, along with family and friends, were very intent on keeping their faith alive and would meet on weekends to read from the Bible and pray from the Missal, and teach the children the catechism. When James Murray went to Savannah to sell cotton, he would get in touch with the priests. Priests from Brunswick also traveled by horseback (the railroad was not complete yet) to celebrate Mass and make their rounds. Later, priests from Albany would also come.
As time went on, the Murray Church needed repairs and it became necessary to build again. Most of the members lived close to the train station in Alapaha. Land was purchased near Alapaha Station in 1901 for the token sum of $25 from John J. Paulk, a prominent landowner. Mr. Paulk, a Protestant, had undergone surgery for an appendicitis at Saint Joseph Hospital in Atlanta, during which Mr. Paulk became very appreciative and impressed with the care he received from the Catholic Hospital.
The land had been secured to Bishop Benjamin J. Keiley in 1901, but building the church was a challenge. Progress was slow. THe closest sawmill was located at a distance from Poulan, GA in Worth County (35 miles away). John Rowe, grandson of James Murray, hauled the lumber by mule and wagon to build the church. The new church, St. Bridget’s, was completed in 1902.
In the 1930s, Fr. Daniel J. Bourke from Albany would come on the 11am train on Saturdays. People would come into town to do their shopping and then gather at St. Bridget’s for midday Mass. THe church was always packed. The home of Sarah & Tom Gray welcomed Fr. Bourke if he planned to stay overnight.
A group of religious brothers came in the summers of 1934-36 to instruct and prepare the children for the sacraments. In 1939, the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate from Douglas, GA were serving at St. Bridget’s. The church was usually filled and eventually more space was needed. Land for a third Catholic church was purchased from Mr. C.C. McMillian, a businessman in Alapaha, fro a token sum of money. The present church, St. Ann, was built in 1942, thanks to a generous grant from the Catholic Church Extension Society. Bishop Gerald P. O’Hara of Savannah presided at the dedication ceremony. Bishop William D. O’Brien, president of the Extension Society, delivered the homily. Thirty-four priests attended, including Fr. Joseph Croke, Fr. Daniel J. Bourke, Fr. Thomas I. Sheehan, Fr. James Grady, and His Eminence, Dennis Cardinal Dougherty, Archbishop of Philadelphia.
In 1956, expansion was clearly needed. Again the Extension Society came to the rescue with a grant; parishioners and friends made generous donations. An addition was built, providing a parish hall and religious education building, with room for the overflow Sunday congregation. With the arrival in the area of two Sisters of Atonement in 1960, weekly CCD classes during the school year became a way of life for the Catholic children.
On September 1, 1979, the Oblate Fathers, who had served St. Ann for 40 years from Douglas, returned this mission area to the care of the Diocese of Savannah. Diocesan priests of Queen of Peace Church in Lakeland, GA, Fr. Brendan Timmons and Fr. Cyril Gabbet, were to serve Alapaha in the future.
In 1988, St. Ann became a mission of Our Divine Saviour Parish in Tifton, GA with Fr. Roch Coogan, OFM, as priest. In 1992, St. Ann Catholic community commemorated the 50th anniversary of the third church with Bishop Raymond W. Lessard celebrating the Mass. In 1994, expansion was needed again. Generous donations made the dream a reality. Six new classrooms and two new restrooms were built, and the kitchen and social hall were remodeled. The parking lot was paved and stained-glass windows were added. In July 2012, Fr. Justin R. Ferguson, a priest of the Diocese of Savannah, was named pastor of Our Divine Saviour of Tifton and St. Ann of Alapaha. 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.