Diocese buys land in Okatie for new church

OKATIE — The Catholic community of mainland southern Beaufort County is getting ready for the future.

On Dec. 1, leaders of St. Andrew’s Church in Pinkney Colony announced that the Diocese of Charleston has purchased a 63-acre tract in the Okatie section of southern Beaufort County. The site will become the new home for Catholics in the Bluffton and Okatie areas of the county, one of the fastest growing parishes in the state as well as the southern United States.

The purchase concludes a 15-month effort by the parish’s Site Committee which was charged by their pastor, Father Gregory West, with planning “not for the year 2000, but the year 2100.” The committee considered traffic patterns, development projections, soil content and the like for the new parish campus.

The tract, sold by the Union Camp Corporation for $1.2 million, fronts a 2,000-foot section of the north side of Highway 278 between Indian Hill Baptist Church and Bluffton Motor Car Company and backs up to the golf course of Eagle’s Pointe.

Of the total 63 acres, 13.5 acres cover wetlands, netting the parish 49.5 acres to be used for a new church, a parish center, education space, administrative space and passive greenspace. The first building will be completed around the year 2001. The current church in Pinckney Colony will continue to be used after the new church is completed and will be known as St. Andrew Chapel.

According to information from the parish, although plans have not yet been drawn up, “the new church campus will respect the distinctive texture of the Lowcountry, the delicate balance between nature and people,” and the needs of a congregation expected to total 5,000 members by 2010. Already the parish has grown from 90 members in mid-1995 to its current 800 members and has outgrown its current facilities. St. Andrew’s existing church was built in 1932 and enlarged in 1966.

According to Father West, the new property is in the center of the Southern Beaufort County area of development.

“Many people are under the impression that the growth here is all due to Sun City Hilton Head. Sun City, while a major attraction to other industry, is not the only reason for the growth. Within five mile, there will be a new campus of the University of South Carolina, a new hospital with several medical parks, major retailers, and a whole slew of other residential developments catering to all income and professional levels,” Father West said.

Bishop David B. Thompson was on hand at the announcement gala which took place before a packed ballroom in Pinckney Hall at Sun City.

In addition to the news of the site, Bishop Thompson announced that the new parish will bear the name St. Gregory the Great, honoring one of the most important figures in the ancient church. Pope Gregory I, as he was known in his day, was pope from 590 to 604 A.D. He was the first monk to be made pope, leaving the quiet seclusion of his Monastery of St. Andrew which he founded in Rome. He was a generous champion of the poor and is credited with many reforms in the early church, particularly in worship (the Gregorian chant in named for him). He sent the first missionaries to England under the leadership of St. Augustine of Canterbury.

Bishop Thompson said he chose the name St. Gregory the Great over two and a half years ago, before Father West arrived as pastor. “The name is indicative of the evolution of this community of faithful. Gregory reluctantly left his familiar surroundings of St. Andrew to serve a larger portion of God’s people and thus do great things. Now, under the patronage of St. Gregory the Great, you, too, will be able to extend the hand of welcome to more of God’s people. May God inspire you to do great things as well.”

An editorial in the Hilton Head Island Packet newspaper of Dec. 8 offered congratulations to the parishioners of St. Andrew’s for “taking action to meet new demands.”