CLEMSON — Shortly after informing the congregations of his three parish churches that his religious order was leaving South Carolina, the pastor of St. Andrew in Clemson, St. Paul in Seneca and St. Francis in Walhalla sat down with The Miscellany to discuss the future. Paulist Father Bernard J. Campbell has ministered in the Diocese of Charleston for seven years.
“There’s sadness and disappointment that the Paulist Fathers are leaving, for sure, but there’s a lot of good energy here and we’re hoping the transition will go smoothly,” Father Campbell said.
In his estimation, the church in general and the parishes in Oconee and Pickens counties are in good shape. The weekly combined Mass attendance in the three churches (all are considered as one parish) that he administers is about 2,000 people, and there are more than 600 Catholics in small Christian communities in the area, he said. Catholic relationships with other faiths and spirituality in the pews are at all-time highs.
“There is a deep enthusiasm for things sacred. People are fascinated by prayer,” the New York-born priest said. “And it is now a wonderful ecumenical moment in our lives.”
He said that the worship space at St. Andrew is exhausted and a new church building will be necessary soon, but that otherwise his replacement should find the parish in good shape.
Father Campbell spent nearly 20 years as a campus minister on college campuses on both coasts and in the central United States, including MIT, UC-Berkeley and Texas.
He is officially the campus minister at Clemson University today, although a lay minister, Marilyn Angoli, actually does the day-to-day work.
One reason the Paulist doesn’t have time or energy for more campus work is the liturgical workload in the western South Carolina parishes.
He and Paulist Father Gerard J. Aylward, 82, are responsible for at least eight Masses every weekend, and nine on one weekend each month. Two of the Masses are in Spanish, ministering to a burgeoning Hispanic community.
“It’s hard to find priests to help out,” Father Campbell said. “I sometimes get visiting Paulists, Oratorians and anybody else I can find.”
The loss of the Paulists to the 1,000-square-mile parish will leave the Diocese of Charleston without a Paulist presence for the first time in more than 40 years, according to Daughter of Wisdom Sister Joan Kobe, Hispanic minister.
She has worked with the Paulists for the past three years and said that the faithful of the three churches are devastated.
“They are unhappy, to say the least. They feel they’re being abandoned,” Sister Kobe said.
The Very Rev. John F. Duffy, president of the Paulist order, said that the 150-year-old congregation, which is officially known as the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, is following an action plan formulated over three years.
The plan, he said, calls for the religious order “to energetically redeploy our available Paulist resources throughout North America.”
“The plan will also regretfully require the withdrawal from four of our current locations,” he added.
Besides the Diocese of Charleston, the Paulists are leaving campus ministries at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of California-Santa Barbara and the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Father Campbell said that a team of four Paulist priests and a Jesuit advisor visited the Oconee-Pickens area for four days and met with Bishop Robert J. Baker in Washington, D.C., who “expressed an interest in our staying.”
The pastor said that he is not privy to why the decision to leave was made, but he does know that the Paulists’ numbers are decreasing and their average age is increasing.
“We have lost a lot of priests. Our numbers are down to about 155; our average age is 64. [This decision] is a tough thing for us, but it’s a matter of members and age,” Father Campbell said.
The Paulist congregation was founded by Isaac Thomas Hecker in New York in 1858. It is a distinctly American religious order of priests, according to Father Campbell, with a special call to ecumenism and evangelization.
“We also do a lot of communications work, film, and are heavily in the Internet now,” he said.
The Paulists are headquartered in New York City; their home church is St. Paul’s Cathedral on 59th St. and 9th Avenue. They will leave the diocese sometime between now and June 30, 2006.
The two Paulists presently in western South Carolina have not received their new assignments. Bishop Baker has not yet announced future plans for the Paulist-led parishes. He told The Miscellany that he will be meeting with representatives from the parishes in the near future.