By NANCY SCHWERIN
BLUFFTON — While the grounds of St. Gregory the Great were drenched with rain, soggy parishioners nearly filled the 900-seat parish to witness its blessing.
The blessing ended years of planning — or rather ended phase one of many more years of planning. The new parish will one day be the parish hall.
Bluffton, while one of the fastest growing areas in the nation, is the fourth largest town in South Carolina, and Father H. Gregory West and his parishioners are preparing to welcome people. Future plans for the rapidly growing parish include a new 2,000-seat parish expected in a seven- to 10-year period, and an interparish committee has started meeting to plan for Catholic schools in the Bluffton area.
Five years ago the church had 90 parishioners. They now have 1,600 parishioners, a number expected to double in three to four years.
“We knew they were coming,” said Robert Van Auken, co-chairman of the Parish Building Committee, at the start of Mass. He presented Father West with two passes for a sky diving adventure in thanks for all his hard work; Bishop Robert J. Baker received the building plans and the key to the church.
The bishop blessed the parish, sprinkling holy water across its parishioners and its walls. Following the Liturgy of the Word, he blessed the altar. Bishop Baker poured chrism oil over the altar and rubbed it in with his hands. The anointing makes the altar a symbol of Christ, because the altar is where the celebration of the Eucharist takes place.
In his homily, the bishop congratulated Father West, who received an extended round of applause. The bishop shared Pope John Paul II’s perspective of a new evangelization, which calls for four qualities to be successful: clarity, humanity, confidence, and prudence. People need clarity to live their faith, humanity to know compassion and true love for their neighbor, confidence in the Gospel of Christ, and prudence … “which St. Gregory called ‘The virtue of the brave,'” said Bishop Baker.
“I encourage you to work these qualities into your evangelization,” he said.
In recognition of the Labor Day weekend, the bishop commended the laborers who helped in constructing the church and concluded, “We should labor in even greater ways for the Lord and his people.”
At the end of Mass, Father West said, “We have come to the promised land …. Give me an ‘Amen.'” And without missing a beat, his parishioners gave him a hearty response.
He also recognized the parish’s former pastors: Msgr. John A. Simonin made the trip from Charleston, and Father Paul F.X. Seitz traveled over from Ritter. Father Raymond DuMouchel sent his regrets and congratulations to his former parishioners.
“With God’s graces and God’s help there’s nothing we can’t do together,” concluded Father West.
Most of the congregation stayed for the well-planned reception and in good humor enjoyed the food and the rain.
Come sun or downpour, the people will eat — after the blessing.