BLUFFTON – St. Gregory the Great Church took the first step on the way to a new elementary school with a groundbreaking on April 29.
Father Gregory West, the pastor, said the school will offer much-needed and much-desired Catholic education to the new families that are pouring into the Bluffton area. He said the parish, which now has a membership of more than 4,300 people in more than 2,000 households, is a prime example of the exploding growth in the Bluffton-Hilton Head area. The growth is coming from an influx of retirees as well as young families following new job opportunities to the area.
Members at St. Gregory started exploring the possibility of building an elementary school in 1999. Father West said the school will add to the lively atmosphere of the burgeoning parish.
“Studies have shown that the presence of an elementary school in a parish brings that much more enthusiasm and vitality to the parish,” Father West said. “At St. Gregory we have parents who are excited that their children will be educated in the Catholic faith, and we have quite a few retired folk who have asked how they can be involved. It’s phenomenal.”
Father West said that the dedication of St. Gregory parishioners to both financial and spiritual support of the planned new school has been inspiring. He said the school is being funded by the regular stewardship of members rather than by a capital campaign.
The parish is one of the fastest growing in South Carolina. Membership grew by more than 870 people in 2005, and Father West said he expects the church to grow by about 1,000 new people this year.
St. Gregory the Great primarily serves Catholics in the mainland part of southern Beaufort County, which includes the entire area between Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. The parish draws many members from Bluffton and Jasper County. The population in the nearby Jasper County town of Hardeeville is expected to mushroom in the next decade because of Tradition South Carolina, an 8,000-home development being planned for the area. Father West said studies are showing the projected population of the Bluffton/Jasper County area at 200,000 by 2025. Currently St. Francis School in Hilton Head is the only Catholic school in the area.
The new school at St. Gregory the Great is expected to be completed in August 2007, and will accommodate 192 students in pre-kindergarten through grade six. The projected number of students per classroom is 24. The school is being designed by LS3P Associates, Ltd. of Charleston, a firm which specializes in school architecture. Besides classrooms, the school will also feature a media center and computer and science labs. Construction is being done by Shelco, a Bluffton-area contractor.
Parents at St. Gregory the Great will not have to wait until 2007, however, to begin giving their children a Catholic education. In August, the church will start offering pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes at the parish hall.
School buildings are not the only planned future construction. Future plans for St. Gregory include the building of a “Resurrection Garden,” which will include a cemetery, mausoleum and columbarium, and a completed main church building able to accommodate more than 2,000 worshippers. The event on April 29 was also considered the groundbreaking for the garden’s infrastructure. Father West said he hopes to begin work on the garden project within a few months.