Our Lady of Lourdes builds classrooms

GREENWOOD — Since they already worship in a church that can only be described as a soaring basilica of light, the people of Our Lady of Lourdes parish decided to go one better in building a classroom space: they paid for it without taking out a mortgage.

“It cost about $1.25 million, and we couldn’t break ground until we had the money in the bank,” said Daniel R. Biron,   the facility manager who led new construction project. “From the time Father stood up in the pulpit and told us what was needed, the people pulled together and raised the money in about a year.”

There is still $1.4 million owed on the spectacular Our  Lady church building, which was dedicated in 2004. The Diocese of Charleston thought a second debt load might be too much for the parish and would not authorize another mortgage.

With $400,000 in seed money from the sale of the former church property downtown, the members of the 700-family faith community held rummage sales, golf tournaments and other fund-raisers, and then pledged the remaining cash themselves.

Parishioner-owned businesses provided in-kind assistance, volunteers laid tile, and children chipped in their allowances. Everyone did it because they wanted to, with very little ecclesial arm-twisting.

“These people recognized how much we needed this building, so there was no need to convince them to give,” said Father Timothy Tebalt, who has been their administrator for two years. “This is a very vibrant community, imbued with the Holy Spirit and with a great love of our faith. The people are devoted to one another and dedicated to stewardship.”

And they’re a diverse lot.

More than 400 people attend the Spanish language noon Mass each Sunday and the English Masses fill the 600-seat church. Both the Hispanic and Anglo communities consist of all income classes, professionals and skilled workers, students, homemakers, laborers, and businessmen and women.

One of the latter is Gladys Woodcock, a real estate agent, who mediated the mural artistry in the new lobby. She said the church and the 10,000 square-foot classroom building, known as St. Bernadette Hall, are necessities.

“We’re growing so fast,” she said. “When I first came here in 1992, there were maybe 150 to 200 people at Mass. Now there seems to be thousands of us.”

Religious education for Our Lady of Lourdes has taken place in a loaned day-care center since the parish moved to its new 21-acre site four years ago. From the beginning, the parishioners loved the church, called “the jewel of the diocese” by Father Tebalt and built by his predecessor Father Richard Harris, now pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia.

The day-care was unsuitable for adult religious education and the parish staff members were jammed into cubbies in the church building, so the second phase of the parish master plan was implemented.

George A. Aitken, who has been a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes for 55 years can’t wait for the next phase.

“Everybody just pitched in and made it happen,” Aitken said. “This is a great church and we need more churches like it. Now, I think we need a parish library.”

The library would presumably be built in one of the Bernadette Hall classrooms, which is now being commandeered for office space, once a new office building with large social hall is funded. That is the next phase of the master plan, to be considered after a period of rest.

The office building will be followed by a parochial school and ball fields “in 10 to 15 years,” said Father Tebalt.

No one could ever accuse the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes in Greenwood of small-minded thinking.