CHARLESTON—The steeples of Blessed Sacrament Church have risen once again, 30 years after they were toppled to the ground by the force of Hurricane Hugo.
A crowd turned out on Aug. 3 to watch as the new spires were placed on top of two flat towers that have stood empty since 1989.
Hugo’s ferocious winds blew the original steeples into the middle of Savannah Highway, and photos from the wreckage remain a visible reminder of the devastation the storm caused.
The extensive damage to the church and school drained money from insurance and other sources for the repairs. Members of the West Ashley parish mourned the loss of the steeples, but other priorities led to a long delay in their replacement.
That changed in 2017 thanks to an anonymous donation of $160,000 from founding members of Blessed Sacrament, who asked that the money be used for new steeples.
The church building and stewardship committees worked with Father Joseph Romanoski, who was pastor at the time, to start the project. Construction officially began in summer 2018.
“Our parish has really been on the move lately, with a lot of growth and new projects, and this kind of tops everything off,” said Joe Pinto, chairman of the building committee.
He said the new steeples are also a great way to celebrate the parish’s 75th anniversary coming up in October.
The steeples were designed by Gary Boehm of Glick Boehm Architecture of Charleston, which has completed several other projects in the diocese. They were built by Fiberglass Specialties, Inc. of Henderson, Texas.
The new structures closely resemble the originals, but with some key differences. They are made of fiberglass instead of metal and steel, and the spires do not have vents in them.
Pinto said the spaces in the originals may have contributed to winds being able to knock them down.
Each spire is 65 feet tall and weighs 5,400 pounds. They are topped with a seven-foot aluminum cross. Originally, one spire was topped by a cross while the other held a crown.
Father Romanoski is now assigned as pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Lexington, but he returned to Charleston to watch the steeples go up. Members of the family who donated the money were also present.
Father Armulfo Galfez, the new administrator of Blessed Sacrament, led a short prayer service and blessed the steeples before the cranes hoisted them into place.
Watching the event was a family affair for Deborah Nelson, a 30-year member of Blessed Sacrament. Among her family members were her daughter and son-in-law, also members of the parish. Her son-in-law, Chris Ratcliff, works for Magee Ratcliff Construction LLC, the contractor that installed the steeples.
“It was exciting to be out there and I was so proud of my son-in-law for doing such a good job,” Nelson said. “It’s a really good feeling for the parish to have the steeples back up.”
Nelson was one of several people in attendance who well remembers the sight of the two steeples lying in the road after Hugo.
“There were so many things in Charleston that were so much worse back then, and I remember being thankful that they came down when nobody was in the street who could have been hurt,” Nelson said. “I’m just very grateful for the person who donated the money to finally get them back.”
The day also brought a sense of completion to her cousin, David Shorter, who arrived at the church early and set up his Gamecocks lawn chair in the bed of his truck.
“I guess in a way I was tailgating to watch the steeples go up,” he said.
Shorter, who is now 68, said he was in seventh or eighth grade at Blessed Sacrament School in the early 1960s when he got to watch the original steeples put in place. He remembered the students were allowed time off from class to watch the spectacle.
This time around, he parked his truck in what he remembers as “the exact same spot” where he stood back then.
“To be honest, I kind of felt like a kid again watching them go up,” Shorter said. “I knew I wasn’t going to miss this. It’s just kind of a cool thing to be able to see this happen twice in my lifetime.”