Five S.C. churches were among 300 listed in Excellent Catholic Parishes: The Guide to Best Places and Practices. Researchers in a Parish/Congregation Study, based at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, took two years to complete the study. They began by enlisting the help of a group of pastoral experts. This group recommended parishes from the 19,280 in the United States. Researchers then sent questionnaires and visited parishes to narrow the list to 300. Making the list from South Carolina were Prince of Peace in Taylors, St. Anthony in Ridgeland, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant, and St. James in Conway.
“We did the study to show there’s excellence in parishes of all shapes and sizes. These [parishes] are good homes for the spirit,” said the study’s director, Paul Wilkes, an author and a professor at UNCW. “We looked for parishes that nurtured the spirit, welcomed and yet challenged, both preached and more importantly lived the Good News.”
The study, underwritten by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, resulted in two lists: 300 excellent Catholic parishes and 300 excellent Protestant congregations.
The study team, in their search, visited St. James in Conway.
“I think they found us to be a good example of multiculturalism, of making one faith community with people of different cultures, of building bridges,” said Father ‘Rick LaBrecque, pastor. “We’re a good example of a church that has developed in ways that are relevant to today.”
Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Michael Hussey, pastor of St. Anthony in Ridgeland, said “It blew me over when I found out. One reason we probably were chosen was because we do a lot of outreach.”
The Ridgeland area is also home to a large Hispanic population for which the parish provides educational programs.
“We also have large lay involvement in the parish,” said Father Hussey. “When you’re a small parish you have to do it.”
At the Taylors parish, Sue Zedek said, “What makes Prince of Peace such a special parish is that we have a mission statement that we’re trying to live out, which includes trying to live the Gospel. If you’re honestly trying to live the Gospel, the parish as a whole will reflect that.”
The book of excellent parishes is an index listing the parish, address, phone, and Web site. It also includes a brief list of why the parishes were chosen.
Under the Cathedral listing, it states “growing urban parish, integrated school, strong liturgies and music.”
The excellent qualities listed for Christ Our King are “strong senior ministry, social outreach and music ministries, works ecumenically for social action.”
All the parishes are invited to attend a Pastoral Summit May 30-June 1 in New Orleans. The summit will be a first-of-its-kind national gathering that brings Catholics and Protestants together.
“We went in search of excellence and found it in abundance,” said Wilkes. “Now we want to share this wealth.
“The Pastoral Summit is the key. The idea is that it’s one-stop shopping for your local church. It will incorporate the most innovative ideas taking place in parishes right now. You can bring them home on Monday and get started.”
For more information about the Pastoral Summit visit the Web site at www.pastoralsummit.org.