SUMMERTON — For nearly a century the little white clapboard church on North Cantey Street has served Clarendon County well.
But the Catholic population in Summerton and Manning has increased over the years, and now St. Mary Church is no longer capable of accommodating the number of worshippers crossing its threshold each week. With a seating capacity of roughly 50, a parish roster numbering nearly three times that, and one itinerant priest, change is in order.
After lengthy deliberations on the part of the diocese and the parish’s building committee, adding on to the existing structure was deemed infeasible. A decision was reached to build a new church.
But where? The current city lot in Summerton wouldn’t work; numerous studies and long-range projections suggested that at least a 350-seat building was needed. Also, the growing number of Catholics in Manning had prompted the diocese to recommend establishing a Catholic presence there.
When the Ridgill family of Manning — a family whose daughter had married a Catholic — learned of St. Mary’s plight, they donated a total of five acres in that town to the project. With the location on Raccoon Road at I-95 secured, the development plan was a go.
Leaving the church that is near and dear to their hearts is bittersweet for St. Mary parishioners, but they realize the necessity of the move and have embraced it.
Marie Land, parish planning and development chairperson, said that she is pleased with the number of financial pledges that have been received so far and the way in which everyone responded to the design surveys the committee sent.
“Everyone prayed a lot about the design of the new church, and we felt guided through our prayers,” she said.
Land said the new church is going to be very traditional with clean lines —”the kind of church you grew up in.” It will be built in a cruciform shape and will be completed in four phases. The first phase will consist of the main church with seating for up to 400 people, a large foyer, and a prayer garden. Construction is estimated to take about eight months.
Land hopes that future phases will include the additions of a bell tower, stained glass windows, a columbarium, a baptismal font, a chapel area and multi-function areas.
Amidst the changes, however, one thing won’t be changing — the name.
“We sent three choices to Bishop Baker,” Land said. In the end, the bishop chose the one that was near and dear to his heart and that stayed the course of the original, St. Mary Our Lady of Hope. The name has to go through canonical processes before it becomes official, however.
At the groundbreaking, held in June, Bishop Baker reminded those in attendance that “the building is just a container, the body of the [Catholic] Church is her people.”