St. Michael’s at 25 celebrates growth, community involvement



GARDEN CITY — The new fellowship hall at St. Michael Church was turned into a Hall of History on Sept. 30 with photographs from the past and an impressive display of the entire archives to help celebrate the parish’s 25th anniversary.

“It’s interesting to see everybody who has been involved,” said parishioner Harry Downs, who helped put the history display together.

That history began with a mission built in 1977. A convent was added in 1979, and a new church wing was blessed in 1984. The 1994 dedication of McCaffrey-Hanley Hall was captured in a photograph, as well as a 1999 picture of the completed activity center.

Father Joseph F. Hanley, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston, served as pastor of the parish from 1986 to 1994. He sent a letter of congratulations for the event. He wrote:

“I wish you all a birthday full of excitement as you enjoy one another and savor the fruits of 25 eventful years. When I arrived at St. Michael’s, you were 10 years of age, and as I left, you turned 18. I was a companion in many of your passages, at birth and at the end of life. I was a witness to so much faith and love. It was a tremendous privilege to share those years and to be a partner to so much generosity and commitment. Since those days I have admired from afar all you have done in giving birth to a parish school and continuing to build the parish community.”

The school at St. Michael’s opened in the fall of 1999 with kindergarten to fourth grade, and 70 students enrolled; the second year a fifth grade was added with a total of 125 students. This year, in its third year, 150 students are enrolled through sixth grade, and a classroom expansion project has been approved.

Parishioner Ann Keller has been a member of St. Michael’s since 1983. “They’ve done a beautiful job, bringing back lots of memories,” she said in the Hall of History. “I think this is wonderful. I’m glad I’m here,” said the head of the Pro-Life Committee at the church.

The history exhibit highlighted the work of various groups, especially the Women’s Guild, the Charismatic Prayer Group Outreach, and the Franciscan Sisters who have served the church for more than two decades. Correspondence on display included thank-you letters from groups such as Habitat for Humanity, Street Reach Mission, and Citizens Against Spousal Abuse.

“It’s an outstanding parish,” Downs added. “I was overwhelmed, when I came here in 1992, with all the volunteer groups that we have and all the work that has been done here.”

Outside in the Sunday afternoon sunshine, St. Mary of Namur Sister Kathleen Kane of Hilton Head Island, a former pastoral associate at the church, stood in line for the food as charcoal smoke wafted the aroma of sizzling hamburgers and hot dogs into the air.

“I am so grateful for everything that has been accomplished here. I really learned so much from the people with their tremendous outreach. One of my main memories from working here was being here for Hurricane Hugo relief in 1989. The parish became a Red Cross disaster center. The National Guard came in. We took meals out to all kinds of people in this area. It was quite an experience.”

The church’s original pastor, Father Edmund McCaffrey, said he was having a high time seeing old friends.

“This parish was built by people who were good stewards. They gave their time and their talent. When we first started in 1976, we had about 40 people. The bishop said we could only borrow $50,000, so we put up a little warehouse church. It wasn’t even finished inside. There was a cement floor and no walls or anything. There was insulation, and that was our church. Everybody chipped in. They moved tables every day. Things just grew. People gave their time and talent.”

Now the pastor of Holy Family Church on Hilton Head Island, Father McCaffrey praised his former parishioners on the Grand Strand. “I was never unhappy here. It’s a great parish, great people and hard workers. I never had to worry. I’d just ask them, and they’d do it. The parish from the very beginning reached out to the poor and the needy. I never preached on money except for the bishop’s stewardship drive. Everything paid for itself.”

Bette Clay, Father McCaffrey’s original bookkeeper at St. Michael’s, said of her former boss, “Thank God he was able to come. It wouldn’t be a celebration without him.”

Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, pastor of the 2,500 family church, said the anniversary celebration showed the spirit of the parish. “It is tremendous,” he said, “Everything is just great.”

St. Mary of Namur Sister Roberta Thoen, principal at St. Michael School, shared her thoughts regarding the growth of the Garden City church. “We work together as a stewardship parish, and that is why St. Michael’s is such a success.”

Sister Kane, added, “Father Edmund remarked about this being one of the best places, and I’d have to say the same.”

At the conclusion of the anniversary celebrations, students in grades fourth through sixth at St. Michael School sang “Shout to the Lord” as a thank you to the parish for allowing the school to be established.

“I think this is a good way to show our thanks to the community,” said student Christian Mateo, age 12.