FORT MILL — In a celebration of triumph over adversity, Bishop Robert J. Baker blessed the roof and the cornerstone for the new ministry building at St. Philip Neri Church in a Mass last month. The liturgy brought to a happy conclusion a story that began almost a year ago with a brush with disaster.
Last February, a snowstorm blanketed the Upstate with 20 inches of snow. According to Oratorian Father John Giuliani, pastor of St. Philip, on the Saturday after the storm he received a call that the church’s roof had visibly dropped about a foot. He had both a wedding and a baptism scheduled that night, and despite the sagging ceiling they went on as scheduled until the local fire chief showed up and told them to evacuate the building.
A beam had broken under the weight of the snow, redistributing the weight of the roof and making most of the church too dangerous to occupy. Only the office, gathering space and three classrooms could be used.
Before the next morning’s liturgies, the parish secured the use of Fort Mill High School while repairs to the roof were made.
During the celebratory Mass last month, special thanks went out to Tec Dowling, superintendent of public schools, and James Boyette, retired principal of Fort Mill High School, for their hospitality during the last eight months. During that time parish organizations were resourceful, with religious education classes meeting at Bojangles and the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Burger King.
When asked about the effect of this disaster on the community, Father Giuliani said, “The church is more than buildings — though they help! Our community has held strong through this ordeal. The snow may have crushed our roof, but not our spirit.”
As the sanctuary was returned to its former glory, work was begun on the $1.9 million dollar ministry center. This facility will include 12 classrooms, nine offices and two more meeting spaces. F. N. Thompson of Charlotte is doing work on both projects. The building is scheduled for completion in April 2005 and the bishop will dedicate it in May.
Admiring the new roof, Father Giuliani said, “They tell me that the roof is so strong now that a tank could be driven across it, and it wouldn’t budge.”
The restored sanctuary was filled to overflowing for the blessing Mass celebrated by Bishop Baker with Father Giuliani, Father Fabio Refosco and Father Joseph Pierce as concelebrants.