Lowcountry Deanery SCCCW president helps council grow

HILTON HEAD — Phyllis Atkins never set out to be president of the Lowcountry Deanery of the South Carolina Council of Catholic Women, but it’s where she ended up, and the group has flourished as a result.

Phyllis and her husband James moved to Bluffton 20 years ago from Philadelphia, Pa., and joined St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head. They have been married for 48 years, and have seven children and 16 grandchildren.

She spent much of her career working as a registered nurse and is now working with the Beaufort Conservation District and Senior Services of Beaufort County. She is also very involved with her parish and deanery, so the move to the women’s council was a natural one.

Joan Valesente, a member of the original SCCCW group that met to form the deanery council three years ago, said they were selecting officers and needed a president. Atkins volunteered.

“Phyllis is always willing to work,” said Valesente. “She balances all this with part-time jobs and a large family.”

Sister Kathleen Kane, pastoral associate at St. Francis by the Sea, met Atkins through the church and was impressed by her. When the new deanery council was forming, Sister Kathleen said, the church needed a representative to attend the meeting.

“We asked Phyllis to go just to gather information, and she came back president. I believe it was the choice of the Holy Spirit,” she said. “[The council] has really flourished under her leadership. We feel blessed to have her.”

Sister Kathleen added that the Knights of Columbus have been a strong presence for men, and now women have their own strong presence. Atkins has been very instrumental in that.

In addition to the local council, Atkins is involved with the state and National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) conventions.

She recently returned from the NCCW convention in Milwaukee, and said the number of Catholic women there impressed her.

Atkins said that Bishop Robert J. Baker recognized the growing number of Catholic women in the Lowcountry, which is why the Lowcountry Deanery of SCCCW was formed. He is also involved in the state convention, which will be in Columbia this year.

Atkins feels the deanery-level council is a good way to “empower women to spirituality and leadership within a modern church.”

Atkins’ goal while she remains president is to get more parishes in the Lowcountry included in the deanery group. Parishes currently involved are Holy Family and St. Francis by the Sea churches, both on Hilton Head Island; St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton, St. Peter Church in Beaufort; and St. Anthony and St. James the Greater churches in Walterboro.

The financial support for the deanery council comes from St. Francis by the Sea. Currently the Lowcountry Deanery of SCCCW has 143 members, most of whom are age 50 and older.

“We’re always looking for younger and more members,” said Atkins.

Atkins is grateful for the help she has received from other women in the council.

“They are all so supportive and it has been a great experience for me,” she said. “I have helped lay the groundwork and have had some wonderful mentors along the way.”

“These are women of great faith and commitment. Without them, the deanery couldn’t exist,” Atkins said.

The deanery council is equally grateful to have her.

“She is a great leader, very organized, knows how to get people to work, and has been a great friend,” Valesente said.

Women interested in joining the SCCCW can become involved as part of an affiliate parish or women’s group, or as an individual member. Individual membership costs $20 per year, and allows women to attend conventions and vote. They will also receive Catholic Woman, a bi-monthly magazine.

The SCCCW state convention will be held on Hilton Head Island in 2009. Atkins said the event will be a great opportunity to see Catholic Women at their best.

For more information on SCCCW visit www.scccw.org.