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Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Camden rings in 100 years

CAMDEN—When Austin Sheheen enters the front doors of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Camden, he walks straight into the pages of his family history.

“When this church was dedicated in 1914, my grandparents were some of the first parishioners,” the 79-year-old said in a recent interview. “My family is still here 100 years later. My father served as an altar boy here. I served as an altar boy here. I grew up here and my children grew up here. We’ve been here beginning to end.”

Sheheen was one of about 200 people who turned out May 20 for a Mass and reception to mark the church’s centennial. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated the Mass, joined by Benedictine Father Paul Brenninkmeijer, administrator pro-tem, Father Gustavo Corredor, parochial vicar, and nine other visiting priests.

Father C. Alexander McDonald, pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Columbia, gave the homily. He grew up at the Camden church and had the nostalgic experience of seeing his parents in the congregation.

“This parish and many of you seated here tonight nurtured my faith,” Father McDonald said. “We serve a God who is greater than we can imagine, and for 100 years this building has been a place of worship for God and Jesus Christ.”

Father McDonald talked about the 29 priests who have served the Camden church since it was founded, and paid tribute to the late Father Francis J. Travis, who served as pastor there from 2004 until his death in January.

After Mass, people crowded the courtyard and the front of the church for a reception, and watched as a time capsule of mementoes was buried near the building’s front entrance.

Until the late 19th century, Camden was a mission outpost served by priests who made the trip when they could and celebrated Mass in private homes.

According to a published parish history, the first effort to build a church in Camden came in 1884, but the building was never completed. The first permanent church, named Sacred Heart, was built and dedicate in 1903. That building was used until 1914, and then became a Jewish synagogue.

The current church became a reality thanks to the vision and faith of a Baltimore schoolteacher named Charlotte Thompson, who came to Camden in 1909. Thompson converted to Catholicism during a visit to Rome, and according to the history, was baptized in a church there called Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

After returning from Europe, she dedicated herself to building a new church for Camden, and bought and donated land at the corner of Lyttleton and Pine streets. Her one condition was that the church bear the same name as the one where she became a Catholic. An icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, imported from Italy, hangs over the tabernacle.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help was dedicated on May 24, 1914, by the late Father T.J. Hegarty, who was then pastor of St. Peter Church in Columbia. The building’s Spanish mission style has made it a distinctive landmark, and it was declared a city historical site in 2003.

One of Thompson’s last wishes was to be buried at the church, and the parish benefactress was interred under one of the alcoves in 1926.

The faithful from many parts of the world have had a part in the parish history. One of the earliest donors to the new church was an Irish immigrant named F.W. Gallagher who earned his  fortune as a peddler and lived in Camden for several years before relocating to North Carolina.

Lebanese Catholics who came to the area, such as Sheheen’s grandparents, were some of the earliest parishioners. Their descendants still attend the church.

Additions were made as membership grew over the years, including a rectory and St. Mary’s Hall. A landscaped garden was completed in 1962, the church was enlarged in 1967, and extensive renovations on the altar and flooring were completed in 2005. Currently, the church serves about 691 households, including a growing Hispanic community.

Although the appearance of the church has changed, the memories and the fellowship have not, according to longtime members like Sheheen.

As a boy, he would come to the church on Wednesdays to receive religious instruction from nuns who drove over from Sumter. Because the church had no classrooms at the time, lessons took place in the pews.

“We had one nun who gave her class on the front row, and another who taught on the back row,” he said.

He remembers former pastors like Father J. Edmund Burke, who trained the altar boys in Scripture and the Latin responses of the time and gave them pennies and nickels when they had the right answer.

One of the greatest honors, he said, was when Bishop John J. Russell traveled from Charleston to celebrate the funeral Mass for his grandfather, Abraham Sheheen, at the church.

“This is just a wonderful community and an outstanding parish,” he said.

Paul Joseph, 86, also attended the celebration. His family of Lebanese Catholics lived in Georgetown, but he came to Camden to work as a dentist in 1958. Seven of his eight children were married in Our Lady of Perpetual Help and he taught Sunday school there for many years, he said.

“I feel so privileged to have been here for all these years and seen the growth of this church,” he said. “It’s an extension of Christ and his ministry over time right here in Camden."


St. Joseph is smiling on his namesake for character

COLUMBIA—St. Joseph pumped up the volume on its recent character award, turning a regional School of Character honor into national recognition.

Of the 44 schools that received the national award from the Character Education Partnership, St. Joseph is the only one from South Carolina, plus the only Catholic school in the country.

“We believe that a positive school culture — what many people call ‘school climate’ — is the cornerstone of a great school. St. Joseph has as its core the strong morals and character education indicative of parochial schools across the country,” said Rose Tindall, principal.

Schools of Character are honored for teaching positive values such as kindness and respect. St. Joseph received honorable mention twice before, said Lisa Leonard, the guidance counselor who leads the character program.

Leonard works with a committee of parents, students, faculty and members of the community. She said the school has used character education for about nine years and in 2012 decided to come up with its own program centered on Catholic teaching and identity.

They developed a list of values matching letters in the word JOSEPH: Just, Obedient, Service-Oriented, Example to Others, Prayerful and Humble.

“We wanted to make the program more suitable and personal for us,” Leonard said. “The six values can be used in all aspects of life at the school. Being humble, for instance, includes practicing good sportsmanship. Being obedient includes being responsible, following rules and being a good listener.”

The character partnership committee noted that in schools of character, adults embrace their critical role as models. At St. Joseph, students are reminded to incorporate the JOSEPH principles into daily life, said Chrissy Dingeldine, who serves on the character committee. Her daughter Cate, 8, is in the second grade.

The values are mentioned daily in each class and in school announcements. Students reflect on them in journal entries and discuss them at home, she said.

“There is a very real sense of kindness at the school,” Dingeldine said. “You very rarely see acts of unkindness on the playground, for instance, because the students have a sense of moral responsibility and understand they’re part of a community. They learn the golden rule and how to treat each other with respect.”

Her daughter said the program is helpful.

“I like it because it steers people straight and helps them to do the right thing,” Cate said.



Father Moran believes 'heart speaks to heart'

ROCK HILL—Four words led Oratorian Father James Moran to his life as a priest.

As a young man, he studied the life and works of Blessed John Henry Newman, also known as Cardinal Newman, and could not shake his simple motto “Cor ad cor loquitur”, “Heart speaks to heart.”

“That phrase of his really fit with me in terms of my personality, and was a special inspiration to me in my vocation,” he said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “It’s all about the desire of the human heart to join into a presence with God, and that is a big part of my role — to help others discern the presence of God in their lives.”

The words have guided him since his ordination on June 29, 1989, and help put the years into focus as he celebrates his 25th jubilee.

He grew up Catholic in Natchitoches, La., the oldest of three boys of the late James Moran Sr. and Bernadine Moran, his beloved mother who he proudly says will turn 90 in August.

He laughs as he recalls bits and pieces of a childhood deeply rooted in faith. Back then, the Mass was still in Latin and he recalls strict lessons from his parish priest on how to properly serve as an altar boy.

His mother, a skilled seamstress, once made him a Franciscan friar outfit for a Mardi Gras costume party when he was in the first grade.

“It had everything, a skull cap, a rosary,” he said. “I won first prize. I think the Lord must have been trying to get me to look at religious life from very early on. I like to think the Lord called me from the get go.”

He made the decision to become a priest in eighth grade, but didn’t attend high school seminary, although it was an option in Louisiana. After graduating from Catholic high school, he entered St. Joseph Seminary outside New Orleans. He completed studies there and then attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, where he considered becoming a priest in the Diocese of Lafayette.

While at Notre Dame, however, he wrote a college paper that changed his life. He was researching Cardinal Newman’s “The Apology,” and discovered that the cardinal was an Oratorian. The religious order’s history intrigued him.

He decided he wanted to join and moved to the Oratory in Rock Hill, where he was eventually ordained.

Father Moran has served at parishes in the Rock Hill area, and led campus ministry at Winthrop University for about six years. He left the state to serve as pastor at a Louisiana parish from 1996-2001 and then worked in parishes in Hawaii from 2001-2009.

The Oratorian returns to Hawaii each summer to fill in for a fellow priest while he goes on vacation, but Rock Hill is his true home. He helps out as a supply priest, especially in churches where a priest is needed to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and visits area nursing homes and hospitals.

He also carries out the Oratorian charism of outreach to lay people by serving as a spiritual director, which he truly considers a labor of the heart.

“I can assist people in their growth in the faith, something that would often be difficult for a parish priest because they’re occupied with administrative duties,” he said. “I enjoy it so much because I feel it is in keeping with the vision of St. Philip Neri, our founder. He believed one of his jobs was always to be a spiritual minister to people. He kept the key to his room under a mat so people who needed him could get to him.” Father Moran usually works with two or three people at a time, meeting with them privately every two weeks or so to guide them in prayer, Scripture study and other aspects of the faith.

“I listen to them tell the story of what’s been going on in their lives, and try to help them listen to what God might be saying to them,” Father Moran said. “It’s important to ask the right questions so you help them find God’s message for them.”

The Oratorian is one of those people who always seems to have a smile on his face, and that expression doesn’t change when he reflects on the past 25 years.

“I feel the same way I did when I reached my 59th birthday on May 21,” he said. “Some people look at 59 and say half my life is over. I look at my birthday and my jubilee and say I’m happy that this priest has arrived at this point in his life. I’m happy and proud that despite tosses and turns, ups and downs, and some confusion in the Church over the years, that I am part of the Church and part of a community that contributes to the spread of the faith.”

Father Moran will celebrate his jubilee with an 11 a.m. Mass on June 21 at St. Anne Church in Rock Hill, followed by a luncheon.

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Special needs scholarship thriving

The St. Thomas Aquinas Scholarship Fund started just five months ago and already it has provided assistance to 47 students at 15 schools in the diocese.

Michael Acquilano, director of the South Carolina Catholic Conference, said they have received some very generous donations recently — the largest being $300,000 — that allows the organization to help even more students.

Close to 125 donors have contributed over $700,000, Acquilano said. So far, the organization has awarded $328,000 of that amount to eligible students.

The fund was created to serve children designated by recent school choice legislation, which at this time serves only special needs children. It was passed in 2013 as a temporary proviso and was recently included in the state budget and authorized for fiscal year 2014-2015, Acquilano said.

To qualify for scholarship funding, a child must have an established Individualized Education Program (IEP) issued by a public school district and dated within the last three years, according to the website IndependentEd. Parents will need to provide this proof as part of their application packet, which is available at

The diocese has 18 schools authorized for the St. Thomas Aquinas scholarships, either through designated programs or teachers trained to assist special needs children. For a complete list of those schools, visit

Families who would like to apply for St. Thomas funding should submit an application to the school of their choice. The fund serves only Catholic schools in the diocese.

Acquilano said supporters of school choice can donate to the fund in a way that won't cost them a penny — by allocating up to 60 percent of their state income tax. He said this is not an extra donation, but simply a reallocation of what is already paid in taxes.



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