By AIDA HERNANDEZ
HARDEEVILLE — St. Anthony’s Mission is a small church, with capacity for 60 people and a gigantic community mission.
Parish life facilitators are Mercy Sisters Mary Gallagher and Lupe Stump. The sacramental priest, Oblate Father Michael Hussey, shares his time between St. Anthony’s and the church of St. Mary in Allendale, 60 miles northwest. Father H. Gregory West is the priest moderator.
Sister Gallagher has been a Sister of Mercy for 51 years. She has a master’s degree in Spanish literature from the University of Illinois and is a certified business administrator. She has taught Spanish to high school students in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois, and was a pastoral administrator in Aurora, Ill. In 1997, Sister Gallagher moved to Hardeeville. When she arrived, the parish consisted of 20 people, including two Hispanics, who attended church. Today, the church has 182 parishioners.
Several programs are running at St. Anthony’s under the energetic supervision of the sisters to help all needy families in the area, regardless of their faith or nationality.
Second Helpings, begun two-and-a-half years ago, is a program that allows the sisters to distribute food to people in need in the community. Two days a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 50 and 100 families receive food such as bread, meat, and fruits. Supermarkets and restaurants in the area donate their surplus food to the program, and 75 volunteers from all sectors of town, mostly from Sun City, help the sisters in the repacking and distribution process. In addition, the church distributes food boxes and gift certificates during Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, donated to them by parishioners of St. Gregory the Great Church of Bluffton.
With the help of several local and Sun City volunteers, the church also distributes clothes donated to them by many sources.
The furniture redistribution program is called thus because St. Anthony’s does not have a storage facility to hold items between the time they are donated and the time they are handed over to the requesting families. The program functions on a “as per your request basis,” where someone puts a request for a certain article and, as soon as the article is offered by a donor, it is picked up and transported directly to the petitioner’s home.
St. Anthony’s offers ESL classes (English as a Second Language) in the rectory, which has been remodeled to become a learning center with three or more classrooms. Seven classes are held every week, Monday through Thursday. The sisters use the most modern of teaching techniques and materials, all donated to them. In addition, the church offers Bible study classes in Spanish, and holds Alcoholics Anonymous sessions.
The church provides translation and interpretation services to its members, for job interviews, immigration issues, banking, etc.
The parish sponsors a Mexican indigenous dance group directed by Fred and Lucy Garcia, a bilingual Hispanic couple born in the United States.
In 1998, the Good Samaritan Foundation gave the sisters a grant of $20,000 to start HOLA (Hispanic Office for Legal Assistance), housed at the St. Francis by the Sea Church of Hilton Head. Some members of HOLA’s staff were trained on immigration laws by CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network), an institution based in Washington, D.C., recognized by the Department of Immigration and Naturalization Service. HOLA provides counseling service to members of the Hispanic community and helps them with legal problems and immigration issues.
In December of 1999, St. Anthony’s received an Activities Center building, fully furnished, which was donated. The facility is used for the distribution of foods and clothes. On Saturdays and and on special occasions there is celebration of the Mass and other religious services, as the chapel cannot hold the entire congregation.
One policy the sisters have firmly adopted is never to hand out money to anyone. Instead, whenever a parishioner is unable to pay utility bills, the sisters will try to negotiate with the utility company to have the service reinstated or to settle for payments the person can afford.
Sisters Gallagher and Stump are committed to help solve the different problems of the community. Issues are tackled from all possible angles, be it the solution to a material need or the efforts to engage the help of people in positions of power or authority, who can implement solutions to complex problems.
The sisters have a good rapport with city officials, among them government agencies, bank executives, and realty companies. A big source of support is Bob Hegman, a resident of Sun City, who finds volunteers locally or among the parishioners of St. Gregory the Great, for the charitable work at St. Anthony’s.
Regardless of its size, the little mission of St. Anthony is a gigantic humanitarian institution.