NEWBERRY — Oblate Father James Crowley remembers the day when his small congregation blended with a growing number of Hispanics coming to St. Mark Church as their link to the Lord.
Two years ago, the parish sponsored a picnic, and there was a mixture of food, language and culture. But it was really when the young people stepped over to the volleyball net that the differences among his flock began to melt away. There was no language barrier, just the fun of healthy competition.
“Newberry is a reflection of what is happening all over the nation,” Father Crowley said. “The community has always been multicultural, black and white. Now it’s just multicultural more.
“It’s the same process, the same problems here as elsewhere. It got handled better here.”
The influx of Hispanics, mostly from Mexico, came in “a small wave and then a big wave” to small St. Mark’s, with about 160 members. Father Crowley stepped forward to offer as much assistance as the Catholic Church could to the newcomers, arriving here for jobs. He also has been able to gauge the reaction of long-time residents to the newcomers.
“As long as the new people are working, putting down roots, it’s all right. It’s nothing new, it’s what the Italians, the Irish, etc., did generations ago. It’s just new around here,” Father Crowley said.
The crowd of about 200 people July 18 at Father Crowley’s farewell reception in St. Mark’s fellowship hall reflected the congregation. Long-time church members mixed with newcomers, along with other pastors and community members, who paid their respects to Father Crowley. He was soon transferred to Camden after three years in Newberry. Father Edward Fitzgerald took his place as pastor of the diverse community.
“In three years I have seen the Catholic community grow, and the Newberry community grow,” Father Crowley said. “These three years have been good, I wish I could stay longer, but the bishop has other needs. I have seen a lot of growth in this parish, and I have tried to be an active citizen, in the city of God and the city of man.”
Father Crowley has been an active Rotarian and has been involved in the activities of the Interfaith Community Services and the Downtown Ministerial Association. “I have greatly enjoyed that interaction on the professional level,” he said.
While most of the Hispanic newcomers have come to St. Mark because of their Catholic heritage, Father Crowley said many other downtown churches also have had outreach projects. “We have all tried to live the Great Commandment,” he said.
While having a time of reflection and fun with his congregation — Father Crowley kept the kids occupied by producing a bag full of bubble soap jars and showing the kids where they could play with them outside — he also reflected on the city he is leaving, praising Newberry for its forward-looking purpose in restoration of the downtown area just a few blocks from his church’s front door.
“We have seen that you can live the good life,” Father Crowley said, “and you can live it right here.”
This article was reprinted with the permission of The Newberry Observer.