KINGSTREE—Sellecia Pressley came to the Felician Center on Thorne Avenue on a recent morning to register her three granddaughters for the after-school program.
She knows the benefits it offers because her son, Tony, 30, and daughter, Denise, 33, both attended the program when they were kids.
Tony Pressley is now in the U.S. Marines and he wants his three girls to learn important life lessons from the Felician Sisters.
“They teach respect, they teach discipline and manners,” Mrs. Pressley said. “The experiences children get here help mold them and shape them for life.”
Her family is one of hundreds that has been touched by the Felician Sisters’ work that has been going on in Kingstree for 25 years. Sisters Susanne Dziedzic and Johnna Ciezobka started the ministry in 1992, and Sister Jacqueline Benbenek joined them several years later.
The three began a year of celebration of their 25th anniversary on Aug. 11 at St. Ann Church in Kingstree with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. Other Felicians came from around the country for the event, along with people from the Catholic community in Williamsburg County and around the state.
“When we first came here, we were so excited to be here even though we had no idea what was going to happen,” Sister Johnna said. “We were willing to do whatever God willed us to do, to serve where we were needed, and that’s what we’ve done. We have a passion and excitement for this work.”
Today, the Felician Center offers a long list of services.
There is the thriving after-school program, an emergency food pantry, a clothes closet, and monthly “St. Angela” meals for the needy. The center partners with Francis Marion University and others to provide health-care screenings, and also offers popular classes such as “Kid’s Cuisine,” a cooking and nutrition class for children.
New programs are also in the planning stage. Sister Susanne said this year the center will use seed money from the Felician Sisters of North America to start a children’s garden, where kids can learn how to grow and harvest plants that can then be used in meals.
A fourth Felician sister will also arrive in September to help with the ministry.
Their tireless work has gained wide support and brought the community together to help them. Dozens of volunteers from Kingstree and at least 10 different Christian denominations assist the Felicians with their outreach. They receive regular donations of money and supplies from around the country.
In 2012, the sisters received the Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) award from the Catholic Extension Service, an annual honor given to a priest, religious or lay person who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities.
They also have some larger-than-life advertising for their 25th milestone: The Williamsburg County Board of tourism put up a billboard in the middle of Kingstree to honor their anniversary.
Felician Sister Cabrini Procopio traveled from Pittsburgh to celebrate with the sisters on Aug. 11.
She remembers driving down from Pennsylvania with Sister Johnna in 1992 and picking up Sister Susanne at the Columbia airport for the trip to Kingstree.
“They didn’t come in with a plan except to have a presence among the people,” she said. “I remember Sister Johnna saying ‘The people will teach us what we need to do,’ and that’s exactly what happened. They learned what God was calling them to do from the people they encountered. What they have now is a wonderful ministry. I get choked up when I look around here because I see what God has done through them.”
Sister Susanne said the celebration and attention is a wonderful thing, but the best recognition the sisters get is daily reminders of what their work has done in the lives of people they serve. Seeing people like Sellecia Pressley walk through the door makes the long days and nights of service worthwhile.
“We now are working with the children of children we served,” she said. “They remember the value of the experience they had here, and they want that for their children. It gives us an opportunity to see how well some of the people we have worked with have done and what they have achieved. That is the true joy for me.”
Two other events are planned to celebrate the Felicians’ 25th. An interfaith prayer service is scheduled for January and a cookout and ice cream social for current and former students and their families will be held in May.
Photo provided: Felician Sisters Susanne Dziedzic, Jacqueline Benbenek and Johnna Ciezobka are celebrating their 25th year of ministry at the Felician Center in Kingstree.