By TIM BULLARD
CONWAY — History was reflected in a tribute to two of the first Catholics at St. James Church Sunday afternoon, when parishioners dedicated the renovated parish hall to Margaret “Holly” Holihan and Marion Smith.
The two community leaders passed away within 24 hours of each other last January. The life work of Smith and Holihan was remembered with testimonials and framed family pictures.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” Father Rick LaBrecque, pastor of St. James, said Feb. 25. “Over 2,000 strong, we people of the Catholic Church of St. James faith community are spiritual descendants of four people who in 1945 began the Catholic presence in the city of Conway, Margaret “Holly” Holihan, Marion and Frances Smith and their little daughter Priscilla. Today in a simple gesture to recognize the remarkable way in which they established the church on a solid foundation, we dedicate our parish hall and kitchen in their honor.”
The pastor continued, “What a joy that Frances and Priscilla are with us to personally share this joyful occasion. As we continue to grow, may we keep burning brightly the distinctive spirit which was kindled in the beginning by our revered founders.”
Father LaBrecque thanked parish members for their volunteerism before he blessed the hall by sprinkling holy water across the room and the kitchen.
Marion Smith was an accountant who opened his own business in Conway.
“His advice and wisdom were so well received, and he was so honored in his own lifetime for all that he did and for all that he was to this community, not just to the Catholics, but to the community at large,” said parishioner Pat Millus. She called Frances Smith, “a very special woman. She is a mother at heart. She was devoted to her husband. They were lifetime sweethearts. She is a woman of integrity.”
For her part, Frances Smith said, I have loved Conway since the day I came here, and so did my husband.”
Born Sept. 11, 1914, “Holly” Holihan pursued a career in medicine. She was given the Santee Cooper Bright Light Award in April 1999 and was named the South Carolina Catholic Woman of the Year in 1994.
Jane Caughey was a good friend of Holihan and assisted her before her death. “Holly and Marion were the first Catholics in Conway,” Caughey said. “She was a very dedicated Christian, Catholic and nurse. She helped with needy children and put on parties for them for the holidays. She birthed hundreds of Conway children.”
Lucille Harrelson, 87, was director of nursing services at Conway Hospital and worked at the facility for 40 years. She remembered Holihan with special memories. “Holly was supervisor of the obstetrics unit and was involved in every aspect of nursing. She was really devoted to her church. She was very dependable and a very kind, compassionate person. She loved babies. She loved children, and she had more godchildren in Horry County than anybody, I believe.”
Rosemary Singleton, a close friend of Holihan, also worked with her at Conway Hospital through the years.
“She was a wonderful person,” Singleton said. “I think she did a wonderful job here. She was outgoing and friendly and loved by everyone.”
The former attorney for Horry County, Pat Henry, also recalled Holihan. “She was such a very special person. She dedicated her life to the community and to her friends. She loved her church. She loved her family, and she loved Conway Hospital. Coming here to this church, I can certainly see why.”
A scrapbook of Holihan’s written remembrances was on display at the reception. In it she wrote, “In 1941 when I came to Conway … I was the only Catholic in the city and one of only about 12 in Horry County. I thought I had two strikes against me being a Catholic and a Yankee, but everyone was wonderful to me, and I never had any misunderstanding. In a few months Marion Smith and his family moved here from Florida, and now we are four instead of one.”
Holihan also recorded some humorous historical reflections: “On March 25, 1961, the permanent Catholic Church of St. James was dedicated by the Most Rev. Paul Hallihan, the bishop of Charleston. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was the vicar general then and also attended. Father Burke asked anyone contemplating marriage to ask friends to throw grass seed instead of rice.”