Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about the increasing population of Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston, how parishes and the diocese are responding, and planning and expanding facilities.
GREENVILLE — A look at the full parking lot on a Sunday morning is evidence that St. Mary Church is a thriving parish.
Inside the church, the pews are packed with young families and long-time parishioners.
St. Mary is the second largest parish in the Diocese of Charleston and has over 2,800 registered households, six weekend Masses and a growing Hispanic population. Nearly all Masses are filled to capacity; it is a place of vibrant liturgy, formation and community.
The parish has come a long way from the 12 families it started with in 1852.
St. Mary has seen many changes since it was established at its present site in 1885. It has a successful history of addressing growth with expansion and relocation, and the growth in recent years has been phenomenal.
The campus presently includes the church, which was built in 1904 and expanded in 1956; an elementary and middle school; a parish center; parish hall; and offices located in the former convent.
All these buildings have seen recent renovations, which are part of a 15-year master plan developed by Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor.
Father Newman held a meeting Nov. 2 to review purchase plans for 1.5 acres of land adjacent to the property.
“There is a need for a larger campus,” Father Newman said. “I want to give you a glimpse of where we have been and where we are going.”
The image that is being drawn in Greenville is mirrored by other Piedmont deanery churches. With three of the largest parishes in the state, Greenville County alone has over 15 percent of the diocese’s Catholic households.
This is a growing area that has had new and expanded parishes under consideration for years. John Barker, CFO for the diocese, agrees that there is a need to acquire land for future church sites.
In 2006, former Charleston Bishop Robert J. Baker created a special collection to buy land for this purpose.
The parcel that Father Newman wants for his parish was last on the market in 1948.
“These opportunities don’t come along every day,” he said.
He has asked parishioners to make a sacrificial gift for this purchase and reiterated the sacrifices that have been made in the past.
“Gallivan Hall was built in 1933, during the Great Depression,” he said. “This may be the only opportunity we have to provide for the future families of our parish.”
Father Newman acknowledged the present economic market downturn.
“I know I’m asking a great deal,” he said, “[it is ultimately] for the proclamation of the Gospel. It is why we are here. We do that in our buildings, for that we need land. Your generosity has made all that happen over many years.”
Lisa Rawlins is the director of the Office of Research and Planning for the Diocese of Charleston.