New St. Mary Church celebrates with its first Masses

ROCK HILL — A new era began for historic St. Mary Church when Oratorian Father David Valtierra celebrated Masses in the new building Feb. 3.

“It has been a long hard journey to this sacred space,” he said in his homily.

The building took over two years to construct. Much of the detail work, including all of the landscaping, was accomplished on Saturdays by dedicated parishioners, according to Oratorian Brother David Boone.

The new church incorporates different elements to embrace its multicultural congregation. One of the highlights is the ebony and mahogany woodwork donated by Ching Phan and Laminated Industries. Phan is a member of the Rock Hill Vietnamese Community. Parishioners also built a special courtyard for their patron, St. Martin de Porres.

But not everything is new. A statue of Mary from the original chapel still holds a place of honor in the church.  

The history of St. Mary began in 1946 in the tiny chapel that now adjoins the church. At that time, Oratorian Father Edward Wahl and his religious community joined with five African-American lay people to establish a parish.

“In the early days the parish was entirely African-American,” said Brother Boone. “We lost all our high school seniors the day after graduation when they all went north for jobs, until 1965 when the mills were finally opened to equal opportunity. Our first Anglo parishioner was Rosemary Philips in 1980. Rosemary is still a parishioner today.”

Now over 230 families fill the 500 seats in the new worship space, which was designed by Keith Marrero, a Greenville architect.

Brother Boone, one of the parish life facilitators, has served St. Mary since 1959, and Father Valtierra celebrated his first Mass at St. Mary in 1976. In addition to the Oratorians, St. Mary has been assisted by women religious such as Sister Mary John Nguyen, Order of Our Lady of The Holy Rosary, a parish life facilitator. The Religious Sisters of Christian Doctrine also spent time in the parish starting in 1955.

Sister Francis Saring, a Missionary Sister of the Blessed Trinity who is now retired, worked in the community from 1987 to 2006. Sister Francis sent congratulations to the parish at the Mass, which featured the renowned St. Mary Full Gospel Choir under the direction of Jeffery Sligh.

Father Joseph A. Wahl, provost for the Rock Hill Oratory, will officially dedicate the church at the 10 a.m. Mass on April 6.