St. Cyprian Church celebrates two milestones of service to the poor

GEORGETOWN – St. Cyprian Church celebrated a special weekend Sept. 19-21. The parish marked 52 years of existence and the anniversary of the Daughters of Charity who have given a decade of service there.

Parish Council President Ralph Edwards and Sister Kathleen Driscoll, DC, also welcomed two special guests, Sister Magdalen Barnes and Sister Patricia Marie Williams, members of the New York-based Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, the founding community of St. Cyprian School.

“She (Sister Barnes) was here when this building started,” said Sister Williams. “I came in 1968 when they were consolidating the two schools.”

“In the very beginning we just had a little private house,” said Sister Barnes, age 93.

Parish member James Washington, 65, smiled as he approached the nun.

“You were there,” she said with a grin. “You were a good boy.”

Washington described the first building as a “little wood church.”

“There were only four people at the time,” he said. “We were coming to Mass. I was coming here since I was a teenager. I lived right across the road there. Both the sisters were here for a long time. They would teach school and go around, visiting people.”

“It was very small,” Sister Barnes said. “I remember Easter Sunday we had about seven, maybe 10, mostly children, for Mass. On Sundays we had just a handful of people. That used to be a heartache, but people down here were very good to us.

“When we came down here, father (Father Joseph Vogel, the first parish priest) had about 23 children waiting for us to start. It was 1950. We had a small little building in the back and a private house for our convent.”

When looking back at those early years, Sister Barnes became emotional and could not continue.

“She said it was so sad when she first came down,” said Sister Williams. “It was only a few people, and all these Protestant people were going to church, and she felt so sad because when you begin a mission, you have to reach out to them to bring them in. The beginning is always difficult.”

But they persevered.

“And now look what we have,” she said.

Sister Patricia Marie was principal and teacher of the seventh and eighth grade.

“Our school was over 200 children,” she said. “They were all black. They had a black school and a white school. That was the tradition in those days, but then the state said to integrate, and then St. Mary’s and St. Cyprian’s were consolidated together.”

The nuns worked with the kindergarten under Father Vogel.

“Every day he had to go beg to support us,” said Sister Barnes. “The soldiers in Myrtle Beach donated to him a barracks. That’s why he kept the church in the same shape as that barracks.”

“I am just delighted to see the progress that they have made here,” said Sister Williams. “God is so good. I am so happy the sisters invited us down.”

The three-day event included a dinner at which Father Ronald Farrell, administrator of St. Mary and St. Cyprian, gave an invocation. The parish’s early history was reviewed by Georgetown City Council member Brendon Barber.

Sister Driscoll talked about the history from 1993 to the present, and Sister Mary Carroll Eby, DC, discussed the church’s outreach program. Sister Eleanor Casey, DC, outlined the youth programs. Sister Elyse Staab, Daughters of Charity provincial in Emmitsburg, Md., was to give closing remarks, but Hurricane Isabel kept her from attending.

In a letter faxed to the church, she wrote: “St. Vincent once said, ‘You have a thousand reasons for rejoicing in God and for hoping for everything from him through Our Lord who dwells within you.’ These comments seem especially appropriate for the celebration this evening.

“The community at St. Cyprian’s does have a thousand reasons for rejoicing in God,” she wrote. “You are blessed with vision, energy, a strong history of service, and the human resources to carry out your mission.

“The generosity of committed volunteers extends the love of Jesus to the many persons who come to St. Cyprian’s through the services provided by the parish, the outreach ministry and the after-school program.”

Parish member Helen Riddle was excited about the weekend.

“I’ve been helping out here the past 10 years, off and on,” she said “I just love the community. It’s a family, and they’ve been great to me since my husband passed away, and they’ve given me the love and care I’ve needed.”

On Sept. 21, Partners In Ministry awarded plaques to parish members, including Patricia Edwards, who helped begin the “Cyp and Chat” meal for citizens; Marianna and Charles Dirienza, a eucharistic minister and lector, respectively; and chef Edward Henry, a lifetime parish member and former student.

Sister Driscoll was delighted with the celebration.

“This is just so wonderful,” she said. “Because if it wasn’t for these sisters, whose shoulders we stand on today, St. Cyprian’s wouldn’t be what it is, so we were thrilled that they were able to be here. People still refer to this as ‘The Catholic School.’ It was because of them that when the Daughters came, we were so totally accepted.”