St. Theresa in Winnsboro celebrates 40 years of steady faith

WINNSBORO — Marian Faile moved to this Fairfield County town 60 years ago, during a time when there were so few Catholics in the area that Masses were celebrated in borrowed rooms at drugstores and funeral homes.  
Faile, along with nearly 100 other people, was overjoyed on May 18 when she had the opportunity to participate in the 40th anniversary of St. Theresa Church. The simple, elegant building located on S.C. Highway 321 officially opened on May 26, 1968, giving area Catholics their first permanent home.
Current and former members attended a Mass celebrated by Father Bernardino Yebra, who was recently appointed parish administrator. A reception in the parish hall followed where people could look through albums of old photographs and newspaper articles about St. Theresa and Catholics in Fairfield County.  
Parishioners presented Faile with a statue of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,  the “Little Flower,” in commemoration of her 60 years as a staunch member of the Winnsboro Catholic community.
Faile, a native of Pennsylvania, moved to South Carolina in 1948 with her late husband, Robert. In an interview with The Miscellany, she recalled the culture shock of moving from an area where Catholics were plentiful to a town where groups of only four or five of the faithful gathered.  
“It’s wonderful to be here after all these years for this anniversary,” Faile said. “The people here at this parish are a good group.”
The first documented Catholic church in Fairfield County was a small clapboard chapel built in the early 20th century for Italian immigrants who worked at the Rion Quarry outside Winnsboro from 1906-1917. One of those immigrants was the father of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, who was born and raised in Columbia.  
The immigrant families eventually moved out of Fairfield County and the chapel was torn down in the mid- to late 1920s. During the 40s and 50s, Catholics held Mass in a variety of locations. In addition to the drugstore, Faile remembered Pope and Glover’s funeral homes, and several private residences. In those days, Masses were often celebrated by Father Robert Sweeney from The Oratory in Rock Hill.
Faile also recalled having to climb a fire escape to attend Mass in rooms over the Economy Drug Store located downtown.  
Land for a church was purchased by Bishop Francis F. Reh in 1963, according to a history compiled by parishioners. Construction started in 1967 and the church was blessed by Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler in 1968.
Since then, membership has ebbed and flowed depending on economic conditions. Many Catholics moved into the area in 1986 when Mack Trucks had a plant in Winnsboro. Faile said many of those people left when the plant closed in 2001, but others have taken their place, especially retirees attracted to nearby Lake Wateree.
Currently, St. Theresa Church is paired with Transfiguration Church in Blythewood. About 40 households are on the parish’s permanent roster.  
Church members say the small congregation is one of its attractions. Those who have moved to Winnsboro from areas where the Catholic faith is in the majority are impressed with the perseverance of the small community.
Bill Garcher moved to a home on nearby Lake Wateree four years ago from Masontown, Pa.
“I was really impressed when I learned that people here had the energy to start their own church and keep it going,” Garcher said. “It’s a very friendly, small family here.”
Michael and Carol Croke started attending St. Theresa when they moved from the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago in 1987. Croke worked for Mack Trucks then and decided to stay in Winnsboro after he retired.
“The unity of this parish is what makes it special,” said Mrs. Croke. “Everybody who comes here is welcomed.”
Sandy Downes moved to Winnsboro 14 years ago from a large parish near Washington, D.C. She said St. Theresa is special because its members work together even when there is not a full-time priest to serve the parish.
“The people here get together and keep it running — they take up the reins and run with whatever needs to be done,” she said.
Terry Watkins, a Winnsboro native, has  attended Mass at St. Theresa since its opening.
This faithful parishioner has taught religious education for 20 years at the church, and said her son was the first full-time altar server there. Continuing the family loyalty, her husband, Tom, handles the yard work around the church during his free time.
“Everybody in this church is like family — we feel each other’s joys and pains because we’re so small,” she said.