Late Oratorian priest named local hero for role in civil rights

Students gather for a photo outside St. Anne School in Rock Hill in 1959. Father Henry Tevlin was a key figure who helped make integration possible.

ROCK HILL—A member of the Oratory was honored posthumously as a civil rights hero by his adopted home town.

Father Henry Tevlin, who died in 1986, was honored in a public ceremony Nov. 19, when a plaque was unveiled at Rock Hill’s Freedom Walkway.

Among other accomplishments, Father Tevlin was recognized for his role in the decision to integrate St. Anne School soon after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling on May 17, 1954.

He was pastor of St. Mary Church, which the Oratory started in 1946 to serve the local African-American community. He first served as assistant pastor then was appointed pastor when Father Edward Wahl followed the call to serve as a U.S. Army chaplain during the Korean War.

Father Tevlin

Freedom Walkway Local Heroes, initiated by the City of Rock Hill in 2016, pays tributes to people of York County who played a significant role in advancing equality and justice of all citizens while placing themselves at risk of economic, social or physical retribution. 

In leading the desegregation of St. Anne School, Father Tevlin had to overcome objections from other Catholic clerics and laity and even some leaders in the black community.

According to Friendship Nine member David Williamson, it was only because of the trust and affection in which he was held that parents agreed to send their children to the white parish school. 

Father Tevlin drove the children to school in a van each day, being careful to vary his route for fear of attack from opponents of school desegregation.

Along with fellow Oratorians, Father Tevlin ministered to the youth of Crawford Road, Flint Hill and other nearby neighborhoods, engaging children in sports, Scouting, dances and other activities they were otherwise excluded from during that era. 

At a time when Catholics represented fewer than 1% of South Carolinians and African Americans comprised fewer than 3% of Catholics nationwide, Father Tevlin solicited money from across the country to fund programs at St. Mary Church.

Father Tevlin was a mentor and inspiration for a young Oratorian, Brother David Boone, who also became a crusader for human rights for more than a half century. Brother David was named a Freedom Walkway Local Hero in 2017.

To learn more about Freedom Walkway, visit

By Terry Plumb/Special to The Catholic Miscellany