St. Martin de Porres dedicates new church

COLUMBIA — With singing, prayers, laughter and tears of gratitude, members of St. Martin de Porres Church rejoiced in the dedication of their new church on April 20.

Bishop Robert J. Baker celebrated the Mass and the Rite of Dedication that marked the culmination of years of planning and fund-raising for the predominantly African-American parish located in the historic Waverly community near downtown Columbia.

Keith Marrero, an architect with AMI Architects in Greenville, designed the structure and MAR Construction Company, Inc., handled built it.

The new church building, which stands at the corner of Hampton and Oak streets, includes a distinctive domed steeple. Vivid stained glass windows line the interior walls of the church with one depicting St. Martin de Porres, arms outstretched, located high above the entrance to the sanctuary.

The dedication started with the congregation gathered in the church’s foyer. Bishop Baker accepted a set of keys to the church from Michael Rozbitsky of MAR Construction and opened the doors. He entered the church along with Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor, followed by the congregation. Everyone processed in while the choir led the hymn “Gather Us In.” Fourth Degree honor guards from the Knights of Columbus and the Knights of Peter Claver led the way and stood at attention along the aisles.

During his homily, Bishop Baker referred to the first reading, Ephesians 2:19-22, in which St. Paul assures the Ephesians they are no longer “strangers in the house of the Lord” because they have become believers in Christ.

“The entire diocese rejoices with all of you as we dedicate this new church,” he said. “This church reminds us that God has pitched his tent among us. This beautiful church is one of the visible reminders of God’s presence.”

Bishop Baker also offered special prayers for Deacon Roland Thomas, a lifelong member of St. Martin de Porres who served on the parish’s finance council, and the building and fund-raising committees.

Deacon Thomas died 10 days before the dedication ceremony. Vickie Thomas, his widow, attended the service and met with Bishop Baker afterward.

She said it had been her husband’s dream, despite his long illness, to be able to enter the new building.

“He said he didn’t want to be wheeled into this church, he wanted to walk in,” she said. “And he missed it by 10 days. This church was his great love. It meant everything to him.”

The choir sang traditional spirituals such as “Wade in the Water” and Gospel-style hymns including “O Happy Day” during the ceremony.  Parishioner Jackie Brown, who has attended St. Martin de Porres since she was six years old, raised her hands in prayer and smiled while she sang at the ceremony.

“It was overwhelming just to be in this church tonight,” she said. “I could feel the tears welling up inside me because it’s been such a long struggle to get this church built. I know all this was through the work of the Lord. I also want to thank Father Williams, because he’s been such a good pastor to us through this. He said we were going to do this and we did!”

The ceremony was held approximately 14 months after the groundbreaking, which took place Feb. 5, 2006.

St. Martin de Porres was founded in 1935 after a group of black Catholics in Columbia asked for their own place to worship. It was the era of segregation, and at the time the city’s small black Catholic community worshiped at St. Peter Church on Assembly Street.