BLYTHEWOOD — During a groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 21, 2003, a promise was made by parishioners of Transfiguration Catholic Community that they would have a parish center by the summer of 2004. Through group effort, excellent management and the grace of God, the promise was kept.
Transfiguration Parish Life Center was blessed in July, and parish administrator Father Arul Joseph Rayappan celebrated the first wedding there Oct. 23.
The multifunctional building serves as a church/parish life center that seats 300 people. The vestibule has taken on the function of a hospitality room where people gather after Mass, and it also serves as an accommodating place for parents with small children. This space can seat an additional 200 people.
The genesis of the whole project began with Sister Clare Reinert, a School Sister of Notre Dame, who was hired to study the Blythewood area and determine if there was a need for a parish. By 1998 Bishop David B. Thompson saw that a community was forming and suggested that the new church be named Transfiguration.
As the congregation grew so did the need for space, and the members rolled up their sleeves and developed a plan. The parish life center completes just the first phase of a larger vision that includes collaboration with the diocese on more construction to benefit the parish and the diocese.
“We see this building today, and we all know it did not just land here,” said Joe Gawronski, head of the building committee. “As we look ahead, we have more to do: a church to build, a retreat center and more.” Gawronski had worked in the corporate world overseeing building projects and was a valuable and enthusiastic resource for Father Rayappan. He helped the priest interpret and follow building codes and deal with insurance issues, DHEC regulations and fire marshal codes for the new building.
They also tapped into the talent of the parish. Volunteers saved the church money by doing jobs such as wiring the sound system (with the help of Bose engineers), landscaping, and staining the wood furniture.
A recent example of team effort occurred when 100 volunteers showed up on a Saturday morning to spread tons of topsoil and lay sod. The job was completed by 10:30 a.m.
According to Tom Robillard, parish council president, more than 75 percent of the parishioners are active volunteers, helping in the church office, cutting grass, cleaning the facility and performing other tasks.
Others were able to contribute not only time and talent but also treasure, by donating items for the multifunctional building. The baptismal font was given by St. Theresa Church in Winnsboro, and the tabernacle and granite stand were donated by Gloria Moses in memory of her brother. The Italian statues, the chairs and other items were given to the church by parishioners.
The elegant green granite altar, fabricated in Ohio, was sold at cost by Robillard’s son, Michael. He also provided free transportation and installation of the altar. On the day of delivery Michael and his family were involved in a serious car accident, but were not injured. When Robillard suggested they stop the journey and reschedule, the family decided to regroup and continue the trip instead.
Waiting at the church that day with Tom and his wife, Susan, were Gawronski and his wife, Carla, who spent their 34th anniversary helping install the new altar.
Robillard refers to Gawronski as “the spark plug of the project, the man who took the lead.” Robillard believes the parishioners of today are trailblazers for the church of tomorrow, and he takes that responsibility seriously.
The youth group is part of that future, and under the leadership of Jim and Debby Lawler it has been included in the transformation of the parish. Not only do the youth participate in the liturgy, they help with the cleaning and yard work. They even refinished the basement of a house owned by the diocese that they now use for their meetings.
“Because Father Joe trusts us and has a great trust in God, things get done,” said Robillard. He remembered that whenever they had a problem, Father Rayappan would say, “Let’s pray on it.”
The priest describes his parish as “a generous community” that is willing to give what it has for the good of the church. “It is not just the leadership,” Father Rayappan said. “Whenever I ask for something, people are so willing to help.”