GREENVILLE—Maronite Catholics in the Upstate will soon have their own space to worship.
Benedictine Father Bartholomew Leon, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Mission, recently received permission from Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, N.Y., to move forward with plans to purchase a church complex off S.C. Highway 14 in Greer.
“Part of what I was sent here for was to gather this scattered community in and eventually come to this point where we could have our own facility,” Father Leon said in an interview with The Miscellany. “We’ve been talking about this and doing fundraising and had recently started looking around for a property.”
Father Leon learned about a 2.5-acre lot, which was formerly owned by a Church of Christ congregation, from a parishioner. The site includes a small church and another building with classrooms, space for a parish hall and a kitchen.
According to Father Leon, the realtor originally said the parcel had been sold but then called back because that contract fell through.
Father Leon and a few parish members inspected the property and “fell in love with it,” he said.
Members of St. Rafka had to come up with an initial payment of $100,000 in order to obtain permission from the eparchy. After they raised the money, Chorbishop Michael G. Thomas, vicar general of the eparchy, inspected the site during the first week of December.
Father Leon has also communicated with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston regarding the purchase, which will cost about $400,000.
Father Leon said they would like to close on the deal by the end of December. He said members hope to have renovations completed so Bishop Mansour can consecrate the church shortly after the new year.
The Maronite Church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. It evolved from the worship of early Christians in what is now Syria and Lebanon.
Many St. Rafka members are Lebanese by heritage or are immigrants from several Middle Eastern nations. The mission was founded in 2002 by a core group of Lebanese Catholic families from around the diocese. Since then, between 90 and 100 people a week have attended Mass in Gallivan Hall at St. Mary Church in Greenville.
“I never thought in all my years as a priest I would be founding a church,” Father Leon said. “Whenever you read the history of any particular parish, you see the name of the first pastor, and I never thought I’d see myself in this position. But this is so exciting.
“I think the wonderful thing is our community has worked so well together,” he said. “They’ve wanted this, they’ve affirmed it and they’ve contributed to it. There are so many cultures, people from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, all working together as Christians!”
The Maronites are one of three Eastern rite churches in the diocese. The Melkite Greek Catholic Community, led by Father Titus Fulcher, meets weekly at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Charleston. The Grand Strand Byzantine Fellowship recently purchased property between Myrtle Beach and Conway and hopes to begin holding weekly Mass there in January.