New church buildings, new people, new communities: Seventy-seven parishes report growth while losses are minimal

CHARLESTON – Of the 115 active parishes on the Diocese of Charleston, 14 have morw than 1,000 families on the books, while 17 have less than 50 members.

According to recent figures compiled by the diocesan Office of Synod Implementation and Planning, St. Michael in Garden City is the largest parish in the state with 2,264 families. Three of the five parishes in Horry County are among the largest in the diocese. Moreover, they have to contend with huge numbers of tourists every year.

To compensate for the influx, St. Andrew in Myrtle Beach and Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach lease out civic centers for liturgies during peak visitor times. Star of the Sea hopes to avoid that after April 26.

That’s when its new worship space will be dedicated. The church will seat 1,400 people, making it the largest in the diocese.

Other parishes are growing so fast that their own facilities are already inadequate too. St. Francis by the Sea on Hilton Head Island is in the middle of a major expansion program. The parish was at 813 registered families in 1994, 10 years after it was founded; today there are 1,200 families on the rolls.

In nearby Bluffton, St. Andrew had 51 families when it was known as the Pinckney Catholic Colony; three years later, the parish reported in its self-study for synod implementation that it is at 250 families and growing dramatically. The development of a Del Webb Sun City housing area of 8,000 homes next door has barely begun.

The other St. Andrew, the Myrtle Beach variety, is bracing for the start of construction on a housing development just across the Intracoastal Waterway that will actually be larger than the City of Myrtle Beach itself. The new metropolis will have a population of upwards of 50,000 when it is completed in a few years and, like the situation in Bluffton, most of the new homeowners are expected to be from northern states and will include many more Catholics than the norm in South Carolina. St. Andrew of Myrtle Beach is already over capacity with 1,083 regular parishioners, plus thousands of snow birds (i.e. visitors from cold states who spend the winter at the beach) and a good number of the 400,000 daily vacationers in summer.

At Easter, the parish rents out the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and serves 10,000 communicants. St. Andrew’s Catholic School is at capacity and talk of another parochial school along the south Grand Strand is escalating.

At the other end of the scale from Horry County are the three counties of the 46 comprising the state that have no Catholic presence at all. They are Bamberg, Calhoun and Lee, three of the four smallest counties in the state.

Thirty-eight parishes of the diocese reported no gains in community numbers from 1995 to 1996; twenty-nine of those actually lost population. The losses are generally small Hanahan is back to its 1994 level of 486 families; St. John in North Charleston is at 193 families, still down slightly from its 238 three years ago; and St. Thomas the Apostle in North Charleston is back to nearly 800 families. It peaked at 874 in 1994.

The largest parishes in the Diocese of Charleston are: St. Michael, Garden City Beach (2,264 families registered); Christ Our King, Mt. Pleasant (1,735); St. Joseph, Columbia (1,674); Prince of Peace, Taylors (1,463); St. Mary Help of Christians, Aiken (1,261); St. Mary, Greenville (1,254); Our Lady Star of the Sea, North Myrtle Beach (1,250); Blessed Sacrament, Charleston (1,209); St. Francis By the Sea, Hilton Head Island (1,200); Our Lady of the Hills, Columbia (1,184); St. Paul the Apostle, Spartanburg (1,100); St. John the Beloved, Summerville (1,095); St. Andrew, Myrtle Beach (1,083) ; and St. Peter, Beaufort (1,002).