1997 – YEAR IN REVIEW – A year of hope and loss for the Diocese of Charleston


Amid the exciting growht and future planning, the Diocese of Charleston, along with the world, was faced with a great loss this year.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Mother of All Living,” touched every corner of the world with her inspirational words and unconditional love for all people. Early in the year, Mother Theresa resigned as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, a post that she held since her founding of the order in 1950. Upon receiving her Noble Peace Prize, Mother Teresa said, “There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.”

During her visit to Charleston in 1982, she spoke to a crowd of 9,000 at Johnson-Hagood Stadium, asking them to “make a resolution in our community that there are no unborn or born child who is unwanted,” adding “abortion makes this the poorest of nations.”

This year rallies and marches all over the state continued to call for an end to abortion. President Clinton received wide criticism from pro-life activists when he vetoed a bill to ban partial-birth abortions. On a good note, South Carolina became the sixth state to vote in to law a ban on partial-birth abortions. The law makes illegal partial-birth abortions, except in cases where the procedure is the only means of saving the mother’s life.

Assisted suicide and the continuing struggle against the death penalty were topics on the forefront in the Respect Life campaign. In an effort to restrict assisted suicide, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to ban the use of federal tax dollars to pay for or promote assisted suicide or euthanasia. This did not however prevent states from legalizing the practice or supporting it with state funds.

The death penalty issue was once again faced in South Carolina as Michael Elkins was executed, and nationally as Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for the Oklahoma City bombing. Cardinal Bernard F. Law spoke on ABC’s “This Week” on the subject, saying, “The question turns on what does capital punishment do to us as a society, rather than what does it do to the perpetrator of the crime.”

As the diocese dealt with weighty issues, it also rejoiced in planning for the future and in the current growth of the diocese. In planning for the third millennium the diocese is using “Enthusiasm for the Faith,” the implementation plan for the Synod of Charleston. The guiding principles of Synod implementation came from a pastoral vision that focuses on the celebration of the Eucharist as the center of spiritual life and calls the faith communities into active discipleship. There are currently 14 pastoral administrators in the diocese serving 16 faith communities.

The Diocese of Charleston was ranked sixth in the nation in the ratio of newly ordained priests to Catholic population, but priestly vocations are not matching the need that comes with the growing number of Catholics. Pastoral administrators, aside from taking care of daily responsibilities, help to ensure that parishes will continue to have a guiding force.

During the year a call for vocations awareness continued across the state. The diocese currently has 11 active seminarians. In July Bishop David B. Thompson ordained four men to the priesthood, Fathers Scott Buchanan, Jeffrey Kendall, James Doubrouillet and Diego Vinasco.

Over the course of the year several churches opened new facilities. Parishioners at St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville dedicated a new, larger church to accommodate their growing parish. In North Myrtle Beach, Our Lady of the Sea Church opened a new worship center that seats 1,400. St. Edward Church in North Augusta presented a newly constructed church in September. And just recently leaders of St. Andrew’s Church in Pinkney Colony announced the Diocese of Charleston purchased a 63-acre tract in the Okatie section in southern Beaufort county. The site will serve parishioners in the Bluffton and Okatie areas of the county, one of the fastest growing parishes in the state, as well as in the southern United States.

Bishop England High School in Charleston is well under way in the construction of its new facility on Daniel Island. The 1998-1999 school year will see students lining the halls of the new school, which is being built to hold a student body of 1,000.

As the growth continued in the diocese, other matters continued to make news. The Confederate flag debate remained an issue as the flag still flies over the capital. More than 100 Catholic leaders along with 700 clergy members and religious leaders signed an official statement asking for the transfer of the flag from the statehouse to a museum. A silent march took place in Columbia that brought together 500 clergy members and more than 20 different religious faiths who called for the removal of the Confederate flag and an end to racial division in the state.

In an ongoing battle protesters called for the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., to be shut down. The school trains Latin American military officers, who were among those accused of killing six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter. A vote in the House this year to cut funding to the school failed.

Starting the year off on a memorable note, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s book of reflections, The Gift of Peace, was a bestseller. The book, which the South Carolina native wrote in 13 days before his death, focuses on the last three years of the cardinal’s life through pancreatic cancer and false accusations of sexual misconduct. He tells of his transformation from “Why me, Lord?” to his acceptance of his condition that finally took his life.

Groups and parishes around the state celebrated annual and inaugural events, as well as several anniversaries.

The South Carolina Council of Catholic Women held its 67th convention, with the theme “Many Faces, One Voice.” The convention was dedicated to pro-life advocate Elaine Roberson, who is a decorated veteran of decades of service ministry. At the convention SCCCW named Elizabeth C. “Betty” Shepherd as Catholic Women of the Year. Shepherd is an active member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Columbia, and holds both deanery and state positions in the SCCCW. The organization also chose Sister Carol Gnau as the Woman Religious of the Year. Sister Gnau is the pastoral associate of St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville, a position she has held for 11 years.

A pastoral plan for Black Catholics was developed this year, and Catherine Fleming Bruce was named as coordinator for the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Diocese of Charleston. The office hosted a statewide meeting that brought together for the first time parishioners from all deaneries to discuss the implementation of plans set forth at the National Black Catholic Congress meeting held earlier in the year.

Three diocesan priests celebrated 50 years of service: Father Jerome C. Powers of Camden; Msgr. John A. Simonin of Charleston; and Msgr. J. Fleming McManus of Charleston. Sister Rosemary Boyd of Aiken also retired after 44 years of service.

In other anniversaries across the state, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Greenwood celebrated its 50th anniversary in February. The Cursillistas, adherents of Cursillo, celebrated 40 years since their arrival in America from Spain.

In the midst of celebrations, many across the state mourned the loss of retired priest Father Albert A. Faase, 86, who was the pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Beaufort.

The people of St. Martin de Porres said goodbye to the Dominican community after 60 years of service. The Dominican community served the Columbia congregation faithfully since founding the parish in 1935.

This year also celebrated the 175th anniversary of the Catholic Press, as well as the The New Catholic Miscellany, successor to The U.S. Catholic Miscellany, the first Catholic paper in the United States. Archbishop John P. Foley, at the recent Catholic Press Association Southern Regional Convention in Charleston, commented on how the Catholic press is one of the few specialized publications that asks “the fundamental questions of human life.”

Also in October, Bishop Thompson, the choir of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston and its pastor, Msgr. Sam R. Miglarese, journeyed to Rome for an eight-day journey accompanied by a large group of more than 180 pilgrims from across South Carolina. The choir would twice see the Holy Father and sing at a historic papal Mass proclaiming St. Therese of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church.

Pope John Paul II would also honor the diocese by awarding papal honor to 14 South Carolinians. The medals were presented at the end of November by Bishop Thompson to two women religious, two priests, three lay women and seven lay men. Father J. Donald Gorski was named as Prelate of Honor of His Holiness, with the title of Reverend Monsignor. Designated to receive the papal medal “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” were Esther Tecklenburg, Sister Maigread Conway, Sister Rosemary Boyd, Joanne M. Comar, and Father Francis Kline. Receiving the Order of St. Gregory the Great were Joseph P. Griffith, Norman A. Haft, Thomas W. Mahan, Jamile J. Francis, Wallace A. Rodgers, Wyatt B. Pringle, and Daniel M. Smith. Elizabeth S. Griffith was named a Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

Ending the year, large celebrations marking the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe took place all across the diocese, in North Charleston, Sumter, Greenwood, Conway, Beaufort, Batesburg and Hardeeville, among others.

Also, the television documentary “Trappist,” about Mepkin Abbey, premiered on PBS to close out 1997.

As the year closes times of rejoicing and struggle throughout the year are remembered, and an optimistic outlook is in place for the new year’s joys and tribulations, which will be shared with God and his son, Jesus Christ.