By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA — After an hour of sermonizing and talking story, Deacon Charles Walsh got down to business Tuesday evening, March 5. His business is advising the bishop of Charleston about whether or not a new parish would be feasible in the lower reaches of Richland and Lexington counties.
“We need two parishes,” Walsh said. “If we build one, no matter where we put it, one county will be disserved. And we should not be about trying to join them together in some mega-church. They’re doing that in the Northeast, and they’re breaking people’s hearts.”
He asked the 28 in attendance at St. Peter’s parish hall to be patient, although he said that the study is already ahead of the schedule he had originally set when Bishop Robert J. Baker appointed him. The former Chicago cop also asked the attendees to commit to supporting a potential new parish.
One who did was Bernie Corbett of South Congaree, who brought maps and county atlases to the meeting. He showed that a line drawn northeast to southwest just below downtown Columbia itself delineates the problem parishioners face. St. Joseph’s falls near the line, but the other six area churches are well above it.
“Two parishes makes perfect sense, but there’s such a need, I’d support 10 parishes,” Corbett said.
He travels 30 minutes to St. Peter’s to worship. He also spends a good part of his working day on the road and has seen what needs to be emulated. At nearly every crossroads, he said, there is a Protestant church.
Another St. Peter parishioner is college librarian William Neal. He sees many people every day who are of Hispanic or Middle European descent, he said, and they are probably Catholic. But there is no ministry for Catholics on the airport campus of Midlands Technical College and no nearby parish.
“I’m amazed at how many hidden Catholics are out there,” Neal said.
Official estimates, admittedly out of date, show 90 households of practicing Catholics in the Hopkins, Eastover area, and 57 in Gaston, Pelion, Swansea, according to Deacon Walsh. He said that his office also has in hand the map to 10 prime acres along Hwy. 378 that the diocese owns. But, he said, he will not recommend starting a parish in nearby Calhoun County.
That news did not surprise John Papimchak of Sandy Run in Calhoun County: “There isn’t the Catholic population there to support a parish.” He came to the information night, he said, to see if a proposed parish in lower Richland or Lexington might be closer for him and his family.
Although Walsh advised the crowd that his role was advisory only and that “the bishop might not like what I recommend,” he has begun accumulating liturgical vestments and sacred vessels, has “scrounged” office equipment and has established a Web site. He asked for Webmasters in each of the three parishes now supporting his Lexington-Richland Project, St. Peter, St. Joseph and Corpus Christi. He is looking for office space in a central location, and he asked the attendees to begin thinking about a place to have mass.
“I want to start taking positive steps,” the deacon said. “What we should be about now is celebrating as a community, but not leaving our (present) parishes.”
People filled out forms at the end of the meeting, indicating their level of commitment. Walsh, who said he is officially the parish life facilitator of the new parish or parishes, promised to contact LARCUM churches for temporary use of sacred space. LARCUM is the state ecumenical organization, Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and United Methodists.