By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
BLUFFTON — St. Gregory the Great helped Bluffton area residents kick up some dust and start building a church in his name Sept. 3.
Three hundred people traipsed over bulldozed earth on the saint’s feast day to officially break ground for the first phase of a new 63-acre parish campus.
An interim church will be erected initially and will seat 800 people. It will be built in a traditional Romanesque style and topped with a 40-foot ceiling.
At its current rate of growth, a 2,000-plus seat main church will be needed in the year 2007. The former worship center will then be converted to a parish hall. The 25-year master plan includes an elementary school, a high school, athletic facilities, a columbarium and a cemetery.
Father Gregory West, pastor of the nearby St. Andrew Church on Pinckney Colony Road and the new St. Gregory Church, reminded the parishioners of the hard work they put in to get where they were that day. They searched long and hard for the best site. When they found it, they were frustrated in beginning negotiations when the seller was delayed with other business. Months passed. Finally, Father West called a friend in Rome and asked him to go to the tomb of St. Gregory the Great in St. Peter’s Basilica and offer a Mass that God’s will be done. On the same day that the Mass was celebrated in Rome, the Bluffton property owner came through with a deal.
“Never underestimate the power of the Mass,” Father West exhorted.
St. Andrew Parish has experienced tremendous growth — from 90 members to over 1,200 in under four years. The explosive growth of the Catholic Church in the Bluffton area necessitated a response to needs of the faith in the southernmost part of the state and St. Gregory the Great Church was the answer.
“We’re pioneers, we’re at the beginning of something wonderful,” Father West said.
Bishop David B. Thompson chose the name for the new parish. Saint Gregory the Great reigned as pope from 590 to 604 AD and was known for his love of the poor and creating the style of liturgical music Gregorian chant. He is one of two popes in history to carry the title, “The Great.”
Bishop Thompson, administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, blessed the ground at the ceremony.
Thank you for this show of faith, this strength of community, this vision of great things to come,” Bishop Thompson told the crowd. “You do it for God and God’s people — you … I salute you and Father Gregory West and I ask God to bless you abundantly for your zeal, sacrifice and labor.”
At the end of the ceremony, parishioners placed rocks decorated with their names and symbols into a hole on the site where the new altar will go. Children were urged to take their turns with gold-painted shovels as a reminder of generations to be served by the new parish campus.
The dedication of the new church is tentatively planned for September, 2000.