NORTH AUGUSTA—Anyone driving through the Heatherwood subdivision on May 13 saw a parade of women in red shirts out in the 90-degree heat.
The brightly colored sea of walkers stretched along the main roads and looped around the circles and cul-de-sacs. The group of more than 150 included young women wearing trendy sunglasses and iPod ear buds, young mothers pushing baby strollers, and senior women walking and laughing together.
This was the first Walk For Christ, organized by the ladies of St. Edward Church in the Murphy Village community. The idea stemmed from an ongoing effort by Carmelite Father Cherian Thalakulam, pastor.
Since arriving in North Augusta in 2002, the priest has made it his mission to build a stronger sense of community in the parish, where almost all members are Irish Travelers. The Travelers already have strong family and community ties among themselves, he said, but it is important to increase their involvement in daily parish life.
“After Mass each week, a lot of people go their own way,” Father Thalakulam said. “My goal is to get people together to share the experience of being a parish.”
In recent years, Father Thalakulam has established a youth group at St. Edward, helped organize active associations for women and young adult men, and taken members of the parish on pilgrimages to religious sites around the Southeast and overseas.
He also has organized spring carnivals, a Halloween carnival and parish picnics. The goal, he said, is to have one activity a month that brings people of all ages together.
The Walk for Christ was organized by the women’s group as a way to help raise funds for a new St. Edward Family Life Center, which members hope to use for everything from religious education classes to social events.
Men of the parish already hold two charitable golf tournaments in the spring and fall each year.
“The ladies here have been eager to do this because it’s the first time we’ve put something together like this as a group,” said Theresa McNally, a member of the organizing committee. “Everyone was more than eager to give their time. The ladies already like to walk, and this was something we can all do as a group. It’s not only good for their heart, but good for the soul.”
Volunteers collected donations from the parish and the surrounding community, and several local businesses donated prizes for participants. A local supermarket donated water. McNally said it was one of the first times St. Edward members have asked outsiders for help with an event, and the response was positive.
“Everybody in the area has felt some hardship because of the economy, but people were more than willing to give when they heard what we were doing,” she said.
The women raised $9,328 for the parish building fund.
The walk started with a group prayer on the front lawn of a nearby home, and a local disc jockey played rock and dance music throughout the event. Father Thalakulam praised the women for participating, and said it was significant that the walk coincided with the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
“You are like the disciples who walked with Christ,” he said.
Those who did not participate waved from nearby front lawns, while others followed in golf carts, offering support and bottled water.
McNally said fundraising for the new building has been an all-ages event. In the weeks leading up to the walk, several children set up lemonade stands to raise money.
“That gets them in the habit so they make sure they do things for their parish throughout their lives,” she said. “They learn what they see, so we’re trying to set an example.”
The oldest participant in the walk was 75-year-old Mary Katherine Sherlock, affectionately called “Nanny Bone” by her family and friends. Sherlock, who lives in the nearby Persimmon Hills subdivision, has 10 children, 33 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. She volunteers regularly as a religious education teacher for confirmation classes.
“I wanted to do this for my church, and I loved every minute of it,” she said. “This kind of event brings everyone closer.”