After fire, Our Lady of Mercy repaired, rededicated

CHARLESTON — Fire was just another way to let the light of Christ shine at Our Lady of Mercy.

After renovation of the fire-damaged building was complete, more than 125 people packed into the church to celebrate its resurrection with the rededication Mass Aug. 24.

Bishop Robert J. Baker, Father Peter Kulandai, pastor, and Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. revealed a new cornerstone recording the date of the fire, Aug. 20, 2002, and the rededication a year later.

“Isn’t this one of the most beautiful churches in the entire state of South Carolina?” Bishop Baker asked during his homily. “How quickly Our Lady of Mercy lost its beauty and grandeur, but rubble and devastation didn’t have the final word. Today is a day of rejoicing and saying thanks.”

Addressing the question of why he didn’t close the small church with only 50 households listed as parishioners, the prelate said he kept it open “in order to continue the presence of Jesus Christ in this neighborhood.”

“I am praying that vocations come out of this prayer community,” he said to applause.

The bishop also had high praise for the work done at Neighborhood House outreach downstairs.

“What happens downstairs is directly related to what happens upstairs,” he said. “Our faith in the Lord is nourished right here; we become Christ for other people.”

Mayor Riley remembered his father’s involvement with the outreach and going there as a child.

“There has been such a major ministry from this building,” he said. “We, all of us, need to reach out. … Here at Neighborhood House and Our Lady of Mercy is the most fabulous model and example of that. It’s a wonderful thought that people can come to this place and the spirit of God at work can touch them and their souls.”

Pastor for those souls, Father Kulandai said the community had come together for the church’s repair. He thanked all the people who had helped and funded the project.

“Today is a day of testament to the wonderful grace of God who can right crooked lines and bring triumph from tragedy,” he said.

After the Mass, Karel Mullins, a parishioner, said: “I’m so glad we’re home again.”

Karen Brown and Sonya Washington traveled from Atlanta to celebrate with the faith community where they grew up. The siblings said they were “very much raised” by the late Sister Maigread Conway and Sister Colleen Waterman, the Franciscans who have run the Neighborhood and Echo House outreaches for decades. They were upset when they heard about the fire from family in Charleston.

“It was heartbreaking for us to hear,” Brown said.

Both were grateful and moved that the church still stood and that they could go home again.

“Our hearts are here,” Brown said. “This is our beginning.”