By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
GOOSE CREEK — During the recent mortgage burning celebration at Immaculate Conception Church, the ceremony featured the blessing and unveiling of memorial plaques constructed by Rey Ignacio, a parishioner as well as a master craftsman.
It was only fitting that the plaques, meant to help people remember the events leading up to the building of the new church and to serve as a lasting memorial to their faith and service, were built by Ignacio, who has also crafted 29 other pieces of artistic work for the church.
His latest efforts are perhaps Ignacio’s masterpieces among everything he’s built for the Goose Creek parish, where’s he been donating his time and talent for the past decade-and-a-half.
The two cabinets weigh 800 and 1,000 pounds apiece and are mounted on the walls with steel brackets. Featured is a “book” listing all memorials brought for the three-year-old church building. It opens into pages and lists each object by alphabetical order as well as the names of the contributing families. Also included is a recognition of 118 “builders” who contributed in excess of $3,000 to the parish and 150-plus “donors” who gave from $500 to $3,000. Other panels contain the names of all who contributed to help pay off the church mortgage.
Adorno Father Frank Palmieri, Immaculate Conception pastor, said he had priced similar memorial plaques for as much as $12,000, “and they were not half as good as what we have.” He added that the bas-relief statue of the Blessed Mother, which Ignacio carved for one of the cabinets, cost $2,000 in Italy.
The design for the plaques was an amalgamation of suggestions from Ignacio, Father Palmieri, and Richard Koehler, building campaign director at the parish.
The effort took four months from concept to finish — mid-May to mid-September — with Ignacio putting in about 900 hours on the project. An entire month was spent sculpting the Blessed Mother statue, with Ignacio toiling untold hours on meticulous details, as stringing the rosary for the statue bead by bead and carving intricate lines in the garment sleeves.
However, attention to detail is something Immaculate Conception parishioners have come to expect from Ignacio’s handiwork, where one would be hard pressed to point out a nail hole or scuff mark on any of this former naval craftsman’s items.
Ignacio spent 20 years in the Navy following his enlistment in his native country, the Philippines, in 1954. His military service included two tours of duty in Vietnam before retiring from the Charleston Naval Base as a hull technician and settling in the Lowcountry in 1974. He continued working in the ship building field as a ship fitter, ultimately retiring from the Goose Creek Naval Weapons Station in 1989 as a pipefitter.
An orphan whose father died during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, Ignacio was raised by his wife’s uncle. He met his future bride, Mary, when he was 7. The couple has three sons and three daughters.
Ignacio first contributed his time and talent to Immaculate Conception Parish when he built the tabernacle for the old church, where parishioners worshiped from 1986 to 1996. He also rebuilt the Blessed Virgin Mary shrine there after it was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
After Adorno Father Nicholas Capetola’s assignment to the church in 1989, Ignacio’s work went into full swing. He collaborated with the new pastor to construct the altar, which took an entire month; the ambo, which took three weeks; and pedestals for statues in the new church. Also crafted were a vesting table, which took a month and a half to build; candleholders; bulletin tables; offertory credenza; lectern; easel; floral stands; hymn boards; and a table and screen with a built-in kneeler for the reconciliation room, which took three weeks of labor.
During the construction of the confessional screen, Ignacio suffered an accident in his backyard workshop which required daily traction for a year. However, that setback did not slow down the pace of his work for the church.
Following a trip to Rome in 1995, Ignacio was fascinated by the sculptures and ornate carvings he saw at the Vatican, and upon his return he embarked on crafting items in a baroque style. Father Capetola, however, stressed “noble simplicity,” said Ignacio, and as a result, all of his items built for the parish are matching. The same style is followed through in that Ignacio only builds from oak which he purchases from one location, Custom Woodcrafters in Summerville.
In the opinion of Father Palmieri, the best work Ignacio has done was a one-piece processional cross. For Ignacio, he calls the bas-relief statue of Mary the item of which he is most proud.
“He does this for love,” emphasized Father Palmieri. “These unique things at Immaculate Conception were built by a unique man.”
The pastor noted small touches on many of Ignacio’s items: a knob on the lectern which allows the stands to be adjusted for speakers of different heights, a materials rack on the presider’s chair which allows it to be adjusted in and out for the volume of books being read from, and the tops of the hymn boards resembling the spires of the church.
Prayer is a major component of Ignacio’s plans before he even starts on a new project. After that initial step, the ideas just come to him, he said.
Although Koehler estimates that the master craftsman’s construction efforts have saved his parish about $50,000, Ignacio doesn’t spend much time looking back at the past. There’s that new candleholder to build.