CHARLESTON — When Father Titus Fulcher made the decision to “come home to the Catholic church” from the Eastern Orthodox church, he never imagined that he would be leading a small group of parishioners in worship each Sunday.
On May 2 he and 25 Greek Catholics met for the first time at Sacred Heart Church, between the parish’s own scheduled Masses, for what is believed to be the first publicly celebrated Byzantine tradition liturgy in South Carolina. The group calls itself Our Lady the Protectress of All Christians. Thanks to Father Jeffrey Kendall, the parish administrator, this small group of parishioners now has a home.
“I met Father Titus a long time ago when he was working with me at campus ministries at The Citadel,” said Father Kendall. “We became close friends, and when he became Catholic things worked out best administratively and logistically for him to hold services at Sacred Heart.”
Father Kendall said that a beautiful church like Sacred Heart provides the best backdrop for the unique liturgy style used in Greek Catholic Mass.
“The entire Mass is sung,” said Father Kendall. “It is truly a beautiful experience that I think everyone should witness at least once.”
Eastern Catholic Churches have origins in Eastern Europe, Asia or Africa. They have their own distinctive liturgical and legal systems and are identified by the national or ethnic character of their region of origin. The Melkite rite follows a Byzantine liturgy and calendar.
“All Melkite liturgies are sung; they are all high Masses,” Father Fulcher said. “The priest faces in the same direction of the people. It is more like the Tridentine Mass but with extra litanies and petitions. It takes about an hour and 20 minutes if I don’t get carried away with the sermon.”
The priest, a native of North Carolina, came to the Charleston area in 1999 to serve in a local Eastern Orthodox church, but said that after some serious evaluation of his religion he came to believe that the Catholic church was the true church.
“The Eastern Orthodox have the same beliefs expressed in different terminology,” he said. “The big difference is that the church is not under the authority of the pope and doesn’t believe in the primacy of Peter.”
It was these important issues that led Father Fulcher to reevaluate what he believed. He approached Father Daniel Munn, arch priest of Ignatius Church in Augusta, Ga. — also a Greek Catholic church — about the possibility of conversion.
“Father Munn and I talked and prayed a lot,” he said. “Once I decided that this was what I was supposed to do, Father Munn basically said ‘When do you want to do it?’ It was almost anticlimactic. He said ‘Sign this,’ and I was done.”
Although the conversion process to the Catholic priesthood was anticlimactic, the ministry that has followed has been quite the opposite. Father Fulcher not only serves as pastor of the only Greek Catholic church in South Carolina, but also teaches junior high language arts and social studies at St. John School in North Charleston.
“Prior to accepting the pastoral ministry that I have now, I wanted to find a way to minister within the context of the church, so I began substitute teaching,” Father Fulcher said. He accepted a position as a full-time teacher for this school year.
“I’m the teacher kids love to hate when it comes to grammar,” he said.
He said that he has been most impressed with the ministry of the school and admires the principal, Carole Anne White, a great deal. He explained that he is also encouraged by the immense growth that he is seeing in the lives of his students.
“I find that the kids want someone who gives it to them straight,” Father Fulcher said. “I get great joy from seeing them opening their minds and hearts to me. Where else but a Catholic school can you teach a subject like grammar and throw in things about God? It is a blessing.”
With all of Father Fulcher’s responsibilities, he still makes his wife of 16 years, Karen, and their daughter, Katherine, his top priorities. The 12-year-old Katherine is a student at St. John. Eastern churches often admit married men to the priesthood in their regions of origin but do not permit marriage after ordination.
“I am really excited about what God has in store for the future,” he said. “I also am aware of the fact that there are a lot more Greek Catholics in this area that may not even know our group exists. To experience the fullness of the Greek Catholic worship anyone is welcome to visit us.”
“Father Titus is a wonderful priest who is very sincere,” said Father Kendall. “He is a welcome addition to the church that he loves very much.”
The Charleston Melkite Greek Catholic Community celebrates the Divine Liturgy (Mass) at 9 a.m. on Sundays at Sacred Heart. For more information call the parish at (843) 722-7018.