The Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception is the oldest parish community in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and is often referred to as "The Mother Church of Tidewater Virginia." It came into existence in 1791 as St. Patrick's Church which was two years before the establishment of the United States hierarchy and twenty-nine years before the institution of the Richmond Diocese. Its first parishioners were French Catholics, compelled to abandon their native land by the French Revolution. In a matter of years, it received some of the earliest Irish Catholic immigrants to the United States. The original church was built in 1842, but was destroyed by fire in 1856 rendering the building dysfunctional for use as a church. In 1858, the present church building was erected. It was dedicated to Mary of the Immaculate Conception, and was the first church to bear the name after the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX. African American Catholics began attending St. Mary's in 1886 where a portion of the choir loft was reserved for them. Today, St. Mary's Catholic Church is ninety-nine percent African American.