MONCKS CORNER—For 50 years, St. Philip Benizi Church has been a center of faith and fellowship for the local community.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass as members joined to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the parish on Oct. 23.
“We are celebrating 50 years of God’s blessings to this parish, and the people here are grateful and continue to keep the faith,” said Father Allam Marreddy, who became pastor at St. Philip Benizi in 2015.
Although he has only been there a short time, Father Marreddy said he has grown proud of the deep love parishioners have for their church and their dedication to sharing the faith with others.
According to a published history of the parish, the faithful in Moncks Corner originally traveled to worship at Our Lady of Peace chapel in nearby Bonneau, but by spring 1965 the population had grown enough that they started talking about the need for their own church closer to home.
A building committee formed to discuss the feasibility of purchasing land off nearby Highway 52, but costs were daunting.
At that time, three women who attended the church in Bonneau were regularly visiting a woman named Emily Roosevelt, whose husband was a cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She lived on Gippy Plantation off Highway 52. The three women — Mary Bradwell, Ann Salisbury and Connie Michaels — would read to Mrs. Roosevelt because she had bad eyesight.
One day, according to the history, they started talking with her about plans to build a new church in Moncks Corner, and Connie Michaels asked Mrs. Roosevelt if she would consider selling them five acres of her land for a building site.
About a month later, Mrs. Roosevelt contacted the women and told them to bring some surveyors out to a site on Gippy Plantation. Once there, they measured out five acres, but Mrs. Roosevelt insisted on surveying more and more land. The women reminded her that the committee did not have much money and her response was “Don’t worry about it, I’m going to give it to you!”
Her only request was that a brass plaque be put in the new church acknowledging her donation, and that the congregation would pray for her.
Once the land was donated, the small group from Moncks Corner then faced the challenge of how to raise money to build the church. The women’s guild took a very innovative approach to fundraising by writing letters to Catholic celebrities around the country, seeking donations. They received many responses, including what the parish history describes as a “generous donation” from Bing Crosby.
During the building process, several names were considered for the new parish, but the answer came from a magazine put out by the Catholic Extension Society.
Members of the building committee learned that a woman who lost her son, Philip, in World War II, wanted to help a new Catholic community.
She would donate $10,000 to a church if they named their project after St. Philip. The committee contacted her, a donation followed, and the church earned not only its name, but a huge bit of help in covering building costs.
Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler dedicated St. Philip Benizi in October 1965.
The Catholic population in Moncks Corner has grown over the years, but members say the parish has never become too big. Currently, the church serves about 218 households and also supports Our Lady of Peace Mission in Bonneau.
Nancy and Frank Modica were married in the chapel at Bonneau and joined St. Philip shortly after they moved back to her hometown of Moncks Corner in 1970. Mrs. Modica said it was a special experience for her to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church that has become a second home to her over the years.
“We like it here because even though we’ve grown, St. Philip is still small and family-oriented,” she said. “This is the kind of place where you can really get to know everybody and realize that everybody cares.”
Ann Salisbury, who was part of that first group who used to read to Mrs. Roosevelt, is still attending St. Philip Benizi and is proud of the fact that she and her husband Reggie are founding members. She describes raising her family there, and recalls how her daughter, Elizabeth, was one of the first children baptized in the church after it was built.
“This place means a lot to us,” Mrs. Salisbury said. “We feel like it’s part of us because we helped to build it.”
Photos by Doug Deas/Miscellany