Father Chuck Snopek is on a mission

SPARTANBURG — Father Chuck Snopek came out of retirement about a year ago to take over the reins at Jesus, Our Risen Savior.

Now he’s on a mission to restore the parish’s “primal innocence.”

That’s the vibrant, energetic atmosphere that Father Snopek first felt here in 1986. He was a deacon back then, and spent six months at Our Risen Savior learning the ropes.

He enjoyed his stay.

The parish was small and young in 1986. Everybody knew everybody else, he said. Everybody was united behind the goal of building a church. It was a bonding experience that molded friendships as well as faith.

That excitement has stayed with him through the years. He moved on to lead the Precious Blood congregation on Pawleys Island from 1990 through 1999, watching over the construction of a new church building whose basic design he called “Lowcountry Gothic.”

With frail health, however, Father Chuck retired in 1999.

In 2003, “I got to feeling so much better,” Father Snopek said. “I was eager to go back to work where I had a lot of friends.”

When the post at Our Risen Savior opened up, Father Snopek said he called his friend Kay Beerman, the secretary of the parish, to inquire about the situation in Spartanburg.

“She painted a very rosy picture,” he said.

So at age 73, Father Snopek returned to take the leadership role at Our Risen Savior with the blessings of Bishop Robert J. Baker and Msgr. Chris Lathem, who started the parish 25 years ago.

He remembers a priest friend saying, “Chuck, you’re setting a bad precedent. They’re going to expect us all to come out of retirement.”

He also remembers being “supremely happy.”

“I got a lot of ‘welcome homes’ during my first Mass” in July 2003, Father Snopek said.

Then he rolled up his sleeves and got right to work.

The parish had grown since 1986 and had lost some of its intimacy, he said. “It was a warm, friendly, loving place,” he said. “Some of that has disappeared. I want to return the parish to the kind of parish it was with Father Lathem. People were attracted by the atmosphere. I’m trying to restore that.”

After 13 months, he’s been making headway with inspiring homilies that hit home because he speaks from experience. He lived the life of a layman for 52 years. “I’ve had a home, a mortgage and job responsibilities,” he said.

This priest who loves poetry connects with his congregation because he has walked in their shoes. Parishioners have responded to his call. Father Snopek says he sees a renewed closeness developing in the congregation.

“We’re well on our way,” he said of his mission.

People are beginning to step forward and volunteer.

“We have a very active committee structure,” he said, praising both Our Risen Saviour’s fellowship committee and its communications committee. “And we have a wonderful staff. Kay, she’s a rock. She’s a big reason why I’m here,” he said of the longtime secretary.

With so many people pitching in, Father Snopek said he wants to restore the church as the social center of the community. He also wants to build up the faith by putting more emphasis on the Eucharist.

It’s not an easy job. The demands often leave him exhausted, but Father Snopek said he’ll keep at it as long as his health keeps up.

“I’m not going to die on the altar. I’ll retire first,” he said.