Catholics welcomed the 21st century with gusto



The first year of the 21st century turned out to be full of spiritual experiences for Catholics in South Carolina. Unprecedented numbers of nationally recognized speakers visited the state to talk about the life of the Spirit, organizations that are engaged in corporal works of mercy celebrated anniversaries and the little known history of our predecessors in faith was presented to us in new forms.

The year 2000 also meant the specter of sadness as five diocesan priests died  three while still relatively young  and a Catholic policeman was shot to death in the line of duty. Msgr. Charles Baum, 92, died on Dec. 19; Father David Schiller, 77, died on June 10; Father John Eyckmans, 63, on Aug. 24; Father William Maley, 58, on Sept. 11; and Father Jerry Schwab, 62, on Nov. 15. Corporal Dennis Lyden, 44, of St. James in Conway was gunned down on June 6.

Two new priests were ordained in June to help fill the ranks, Father Chris Danel and Father Ronald Farrell. The Bishop of Charleston, the Most Rev. Robert J. Baker, called the new priests the “answer  to the plea of Jesus in the Gospels and our prayers as well.”

The ordinations were celebrated as memorable events, as was the papal designation of 2000 as a jubilee year. Bishop Baker declared a year of prayer to coincide with the jubilee year and wrote a series of monthly intentions in the diocesan newspaper. Using his episcopal theme “Rejoicing in hope” as the motif for his commentaries, Bishop Baker wrote about Christian unity, the family, the culture of life, stewardship, vocations, thanksgiving, the Gospel, diversity and education.

The Diocese of Charleston also organized a huge All-Ministries Conference in Columbia on Oct. 9, and parishes across the state held celebratory functions and brought in speakers and retreat specialists throughout the year to recognize the once-in-a-millennium designation.

Norma McCorvey, the converted Jane Roe in the infamous Roe vs. Wade abortion decision of the U. S. Supreme Court, spoke at Greenville’s Furman University on Jan. 19. Marty Haugen, well-known liturgical composer, visited Prince of Peace, Taylors, in February. The Oratory in Rock Hill hosted the theologian Delores Leckey, and Birthright of Columbia heard from Birthright founder Terri Weaver in the same month.

During Lent 2000, the old and new brought Christian theologians to the faithful: the Lenten Study Series at Mepkin Abbey continued with professors Wendy Wright and Bart Ehrlman, while the innovative Theology on Tap series started in the areas around the University of South Carolina. Both were immensely successful.

Sister Helen Prejean, who made headlines everywhere for her book Dead Man Walking, came to Furman University in March to speak against the death penalty. The next month, Father H. John Tetlow, the director of vocations for the Diocese of St. Augustine, spoke to laity and clergy following the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

May was a big month for visiting dignitaries, as famed tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, Ph.D., spoke to Catholics in Myrtle Beach and Franciscan Father Benedict Groeschel stepped out of the TV spotlight long enough to present a mission at Holy Family Church on Hilton Head Island.

Father Samuel Weber of the Wake Forest Divinity School came to Charleston; Maronite Bishop Stephen H. Doueihi visited the Maronite community in Greenville; and author Bill Huebsch came to celebrate the jubilee with St. John the Beloved in Summerville. Jesuit Father J-Glenn Murray was the keynoter at the All Ministries Conference in October, joining Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile and three other presenters at that major event. Bud Welch, who lost his only daughter in the Oklahoma City bombing, spoke the next night at the Bernardin Lecture Series at USC.

In-service workshops for Catholic teachers and catechists rounded out a full year of importing talent, although teachers and children were not the only ones being taught in the diocese in 2000. The Institute for Parish Leadership Development celebrated its second year by certifying 200 parishioners for the work of the laity as outlined by Vatican II.

All Catholics in South Carolina learned more about the history of their religion when Father Scott Buchanan began a series of history lessons in the March 16 issue of The New Catholic Miscellany. That general educational effort was accentuated when the diocesan-sponsored documentary film “Fire Tried Gold” premiered on ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates across the Palmetto State on Aug. 13. Both Father Buchanan’s columns and the documentary covered the history of Catholicism in the state starting before there was a diocese here. We learned about Bishops John England and Patrick Lynch, about slavery in the church and about the freedom marches 100 years later; many prominent Catholics were featured in the film, including Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, Abbot Francis Kline of Mepkin Abbey, and Msgr. James A. Carter, co-vicar general of the Diocese of Charleston.

The other co-vicar general chosen by the 12th bishop of Charleston was Msgr. Joseph R. Roth, who will concentrate on education and other Christian formation considerations.

Ecumenism continued to blossom in the first year of the third millennium. The Lutheran Church dedicated a new hospice in the Midlands, The Bernardin Hospice House, to a local Catholic cardinal, and LARCUM (Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and United Methodists) met again in June, this time to discuss, among other things, interdenominational marriages. And, in October, the bishop of Charleston preached at the Festival of Reformation, a Lutheran event.

Large Catholic-sponsored gatherings also took place in 2000, including the largest-ever high school youth conference. It was the 10th annual conference sponsored by the diocesan Youth and Young Adults Ministry Office. Easter Mass was again massive (about 5,000 worshipers) in tourist country, Myrtle Beach, and the annual Thanksgiving feast in Columbia attracted diners by the hundreds. Both events required the use of municipal halls. The first Coastal Catholic Conference, held in Myrtle Beach, drew more than 1,000 parishioners from across the Pee Dee.

Two gatherings unique to the first year of the 21st century were the Week of Christian Unity and the Get In Step March, both designed to assist the state legislature in its ultimate decision to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome. Catholics were prominent in both efforts.

The faithful were also prominent in contributing to the annual Diocesan Development Fund. Seventy-two parishes reached their fund-raising goals, and the DDF reached $1.8 million, a record amount.

The year 2000 also saw retreats for women religious, college students, Hispanic ministers and those for whom a religious vocation is a possibility. It was more than a possibility for Superintendent of Schools Gay Rowzie, Ph.D. She went off to Christian formation as a Sister of Humility and was replaced in the diocese by Gary Gelo. In Columbia, Jim McIntyre replaced Harold Bayerl as headmaster of Cardinal Newman High School.

CNHS is one of two diocesan secondary schools in South Carolina, but the two are no longer the only Catholic high schools. Bishop Baker welcomed St. Joseph High School of Greenville and St. Francis Xavier High School of Sumter into the fold as independent Catholic schools. He also blessed new church property in Blythewood and a new church in Bluffton.

Birthright of Columbia celebrated its 20th anniversary, as did the Oratory Religion Camp; Our Lady of Good Counsel in Folly Beach turned 50.

Catholics helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity and Elderly Transferable Housing, and they helped repair homes for the poor four different times under the auspices of Home Works and HEART.

There were even more goings-on among Catholics in the Palmetto State in the first year of the third millennium  more than we can list in a single issue. It was an energizing and gratifying 12 months. With a major effort just underway to evangelize the untold thousands of Latinos now residing in the state and with parishes from the Lowcountry to the Upstate growing and building, we can expect more months of spiritually stirring news for years to come.