By Sheila Ojendyk
GREENVILLE — St Mary’s parishioners returned to their beloved, newly renovated church for the first time on Nov. 4. Bishop Robert J. Baker celebrated a pontifical Mass of rededication and thanksgiving for the parish’s 150th anniversary. Concelebrants were Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor; Father Francisco Cruz, parochial vicar; and Father Steven Brovey, pastor of Prince of Peace.
Special guests included Jo Ann Newman, Father Newman’s mother; Father Robert S. Dannals, pastor of Christ Church Episcopal; the Rev. Randy Kowalski, pastor of Greenville First Presbyterian Church; and the Rev. Jeff Rodgers, pastor of Greenville First Baptist Church.
Father Newman gave a brief history of St. Mary, which was the first Catholic church in Greenville County. The first known Mass in Greenville was held in 1852 in a private home, and the Catholic population was 12. A priest traveled from Columbia to serve the area.
The first permanent church, a frame building, was built in 1876 in a different part of the city. The building was moved to the present St. Mary campus in 1885. It was torn down in 1903 to make way for the present church, which was consecrated on Nov. 4, 1904. The church was enlarged in 1955 and rededicated on Nov. 4, 1956. Some minor remodeling was done in 1986 to accommodate the changes in worship decreed by the Second Vatican Council.
The recent renovation was triggered by a failing air-conditioning system in the middle of the summer. The church was closed last winter for a period that Father Newman described as “ten months of blood, sweat, and tears.”
Life at St. Mary’s did not stop because the church was closed. Weekend Masses were held in the gymnasium, and 13 of the 14 scheduled parish weddings were celebrated at Christ Church Episcopal. The other wedding was celebrated at Greenville First Presbyterian Church.
Renovation started with the roof and went all the way to the floor. Light fixtures were replaced, pews were refinished, and the church was repainted. A special niche was built for the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Carved wooden crosses were placed above each Station of the Cross, and a new, hand-carved ambo was installed. A new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, donated by Father Newman, was placed in the chapel.
Bishop Baker blessed the new chalice, paten, and tabernacle. The bishop told the crowd that celebrations are an important part of life but reminded them that “At every Mass we have an opportunity for the great faith and devotion shown tonight .… It’s a great tribute to our Lord that you have restored this church so beautifully.” He then asked parish members to “pray for the special needs of our church world … for your bishops, your priests, and for vocations.”