Community builds without fund raising

GREENWOOD — When the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes decided it was time to begin building their new church, they went about it in a style all their own.

They own a 21-acre piece of land about two miles from the site of the present church; it was blessed (and paid for) in 1998. They had hoped to have the groundbreaking ceremony on the parish feast day this year, but diocesan permission didn’t arrive until three days before.

With no time to arrange an official ceremony, they brought a box of dirt from the land to their sanctuary and performed what the pastor called a symbolic groundbreaking following their communal celebration of the Eucharist on Feb. 11 — 145 years to the day after the Blessed Mother appeared in Lourdes.

“Miracles do happen,” Father Richard Harris told his congregation that night. “They happened in Jesus’ time. They happened in Bernadette’s time. In 1926 … came the miracle of Greenwood … a parish that has now grown to over 650 families in 2003.”

That growth has strained the existing facilities to the point that Father Harris now preaches to “two separate congregations.” One worships in the main sanctuary and the other in a glass-doored hall facing the altar from the side. The parishioners are ready for a bigger facility.

“Finally,” said Kris Wheeler, 18, an altar server for the feast day Mass. “The new church will help, especially in the social aspects of parish


Paying the bill for the new, 850-seat worship space is where Our Lady of Lourdes breaks with convention once again. The parish is not raising money with a capital campaign though funds had already been raised for the purchase of the land and to provide seed money for the construction of the new church under former pastor Father Hayden Vaverek.

We’re not having special collections, either,” said David M. Pileggi, a parishioner since 1990.

There will be no raffles, bazaars or suppers. In fact, there will be no fund raisers of any kind. The parishioners are paying for their new church through the surplus from the weekend offertory collections. Both Father Harris and Pileggi are confident that Our Lady of Lourdes can pay off their mortgage that way.

“This is a stewardship parish. Building our new church with our tithing will be an embodiment of stewardship on an on-going and enduring basis,” Pileggi said.

He also said that the parish regularly has no second collections, except for one special cause: the tabernacle for the new church.

“Father Harris wants everyone to take ownership of the tabernacle, as the center of the church. Even this, though, is strictly on your own conscience. There are no envelopes; you just throw cash in the basket,” the parishioner said.

Catholics in Greenwood County hope to have a new church ready on Mathis Road in about 14 months. Phase II, a parish life center, will follow. Meanwhile, they will continue to maintain the present facilities for religious education and administration. And they will pay for it all, according to the pastor, “because we are a stewardship community.”