Our History

The Nazareth Orphanage, opened by Father Thomas Price in 1899.
The Nazareth Orphanage, opened by Father Thomas Price in 1899.

In 1789, John Carroll was appointed the first Catholic Bishop in the United States. He headed the Diocese of Baltimore, which comprised the entire U.S. Not until 1820 were the first dioceses established in the South: Richmond, Va., and Charleston, S.C. Charleston’s territory included the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Charleston’s bishop, the Most Reverend John England, first visited North Carolina in 1821.

In 1868, the state was designated a Vicariate Apostolic, with Bishop James Gibbons installed in Wilmington as its administrator.

The year 1886 saw the ordination of North Carolina’s first native Catholic priest, Father Thomas Frederick Price. Father Price would become known as the “Tar Heel Apostle” for his tireless efforts to spread and establish the Catholic faith in North Carolina. In 1911, he left the state to co-found the Society of Maryknoll. In 2012, Father Price’s Cause for Beatification and Canonization was opened.

The Diocese of Raleigh was established on December 12, 1924, by Pope Pius XI. At the time, the diocese covered the entire state of North Carolina, with a Catholic population of 6,000. Sacred Heart Church, recently constructed in downtown Raleigh as a parish church with a seating capacity of 320, was designated the Cathedral for the new diocese.

By 1972, the diocese had grown to approximately 70,000 Catholics. That year, at the request of the Most Reverend Vincent S. Waters, third Bishop of Raleigh, Pope Paul VI created the Diocese of Charlotte from the western half of the Raleigh Diocese.

With an estimated 500,000 Catholics living in the Diocese of Raleigh, in 2012, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, fifth Bishop of Raleigh, began to raise funds for a new Cathedral for the diocese, to be named Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral.

On January 3, 2015, the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated the Rite of Blessing and Groundbreaking for Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, located on ground purchased by Servant of God Father Thomas Price in 1896. 

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral was dedicated on July 26, 2017.

On July 5, 2017, it was announced in Rome that our Holy Father Pope Francis appointed Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, to serve as the 6th bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh. He was installed August 29, 2017, at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral. 

Video presentations

Father Chris Koehn delivered this excellent talk on the history of the Diocese of Raleigh at its Eucharistic Congress in October 2023. The congress kicked off the diocese's Centennial Celebration in advance of its 100th anniversary on Dec. 12, 2024.

In the following video, Monsignor Gerald Lewis, archivist for the Diocese of Raleigh, gives a historical overview of the diocese.


Diocese of Raleigh Centennial: A Century of Growing in the Body of Christ

Our Diocese's 90th Anniversary - 2014

Archbishop Fulton Sheen preaches at diocese's 50th anniversary Mass - 1974


The Chair

In 2023, Bishop Luis Zarama participated in a video project called The Chair, a television series that highlights America's dioceses and cathedrals, exploring the rich fabric and diversity of the Catholic Church through the eyes of the local bishop. The Chair is the joyful story of the Catholic Church in America — its rich history, the sublime beauty of its cathedrals, and the inspiring ministry of modern-day apostles. This episode explores the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, and the ministry of its 6th bishop, Luis Rafael Zarama.