Immaculate Conception Catholic Church

This profile was last updated in 2006

Activities and Schedule

Some of the programs include: Immaculata Catholic School, Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Daughters, Cub Scouts, Family Prayer Group, 50 + Group, Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary, Mom’s Parenting Group, Vacation Bible School, ESL Classes, Spanish Classes, Volleyball, Wednesday Prayer Group, Youth Group.

Mass Schedule is as follows:
Saturday: 5:30 P.M.
Sunday: 8:00 A.M., 10:00 A.M., 12:00 Noon, 5:00 P.M. Spanish-English
Reconciliation: Saturday 10:00-11:00 A.M.


Since 1990, the Latino population in Durham has grown nearly five-fold from a barely visible minority, to a population whose strong presence in the area is attested by the rapid increase in Latino restaurants and markets. Hispanics, chiefly from Mexico, began coming to North Carolina in the early 1990s to work in construction, food services and other industries that grew in response to the population boom in Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill (the Research Triangle) and the outlying areas. The number of Latinos currently living in the Research Triangle is difficult to measure, however it has been estimated from 150,000 to 250,000.

Although today Immaculate Conception is a large and vibrant parish of approximately 3,200 members, it began in 1906 to serve 110 Catholics. The parish grew slowly in the late sixties, fed in large part by the development of Research Triangle Park (RTP), which houses technical and research firms such as Glaxowelcome and IBM. The RTP attracted Catholics from the North to the Bible belt.
Membership at Immaculate Conception, rose from 2,332 in 1992 to 3,172 in 1998, as more and more Latino Catholics, approximately 600 as of 31 July 1998, found their way to the church on West Chapel Hill Street. Large numbers of Latinos, however, began attending Immaculate Conception only in October 1996.

Leadership and Aims

Father John, who ministered to Latinos in New York City, offers a bilingual mass each Sunday and facilitates parish-wide celebrations for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. He also offers preparation for marriages and baptisms, as well as celebrations of the presentation of three year-olds, and quince años. Along with these specifically religious events, the parish has invited many Latino children into its daycare program and into its school. Parishioners offer classes each Sunday in Spanish and English. The parish also manages programs which supports the myriad of needs of Latino people in Durham. The church’s leadership, that is, not only works to help its parishioners, also tries to help any dispossessed person in the city of Durham. Father John, for example, serves on the board of the Hispanic Center in Durham, and Immaculate Conception participates in Durham Congregations in Action, an ecumenical community organization that responds to the needs of the homebound and those who live in substandard housing. As advocates for the rights of all people, Immaculate Conception attempts to embody a gospel that expects its followers, in the words of Father John, to “take the side of the powerless, who for us in Durham includes the immigrants, jobless people, families who struggle in whatever way . . . So we embrace them and do our best to reach out, integrate.”

Children’s Program

Immaculate Conception’s goal of integration extends to the children’s Faith Formation classes. Approximately five hundred Latino and Anglo children attend the classes, in which they learn Catholic beliefs and practices, using the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Program. Sofia Cavalletti designed that instructional program in 1954, by applying Maria Montessori’s educational techniques to a religious context. Montessori (1870-1952) believed that children should be treated as individuals who learned best through interactions with the world, in age appropriate ways that engaged their senses. Thus, using the method in a religious setting, children come to understand Catholic doctrine through their explorations, in a prepared environment, or atrium, that contains models of objects used in Christian worship, such as the altar, bibles, and vestments. The children investigate these objects in small groups, moving from one station to the next when both the students and their teachers feel that they have reached an understanding of the lesson they were exploring. By using this tangible, child-centered approach to religious education, Ms. Barbara Pegg, the director of Faith Formation, hopes that each child at Immaculate Conception will engage in a conversation with God that enriches her/his personal relationship with Him at her/his own pace, rather than simply memorizing creeds, ritual gestures and bible stories.

Latino and Anglo Communities in the Church

The desire to bring the Anglo and Latino parishioners together in worship and fellowship within the parish seems to stem from an understanding that each community has something important that it can teach the other. As Father John emphasized, “it’s appropriate. . . . to sort out . . . . what’s good from what the people bring and what’s good from what we have and come to a melding and a better experience for us.” The Anglo community, for instance, according to Ms. Pegg, can teach the Latinos more about scripture, while the Latinos, Father John explained, can offer the church an opportunity to regain the “imaginative images, symbols and stories that are the richness, ancient richness, of the Catholic Church” since before Vatican II. In this way, the Latinos provide the church with an avenue to deepen the sense of mystery and the sacred that Catholics today seek. Many members at Immaculate Conception, for example, welcome some of the Latino traditions that venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the church works to meet the needs and traditions of the Latino community in relation to those of its Anglo parishioners, it continues to move slowly and carefully toward greater understanding of the two communities.