St. Mary of the Angels step up for new hall

Participants sing at the “Women Celebrating Women” day in the new hall Aug. 15. More than 150 women attended. (Provided)

Participants sing at the “Women Celebrating Women” day in the new hall Aug. 15. More than 150 women attended. (Provided)ANDERSON—Members of St. Mary of the Angels Church had a big challenge earlier this year — raise $60,000 between May 2010 and May 2011 to receive matching funds from the Catholic Extension Society to expand the parish’s social hall.

They took that challenge and ran with it, raising about $71,000 in two-and-a-half months.

On Aug. 17, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone received a check from the Extension Society for St. Mary. The newly completed hall will be dedicated during the church’s heritage banquet on Sept. 17.

Franciscan Father Aubrey McNeil, pastor, said the building is a blessing for the diverse parish of about 420 households.

“It’s wonderful and exciting, it means more time to be together, and that’s what we were looking for,” he said. “Our regret was that before, we couldn’t celebrate anything as a community. We could only accommodate small groups, and people wouldn’t come to events because they didn’t want to feel all crunched in. This is important for the social dimension of the parish.”

Before the new addition, the existing social hall held about 85 people. Now, it will hold up to 260 people seated at tables, plus the size of the kitchen tripled.

Annie Thompson, a parishioner since 1981 and chairwoman of the stewardship committee, said the expansion will transform church events, including an annual family Christmas dinner and a meal for the poor served on Palm Sunday.

“At Christmas, we were never able to gather as a whole church community,” Thompson said. “People would overflow and have to sit and eat outside. This is going to be the first time we can all get together.”

One large event has already been held in the new hall. More than 150 women attended the Aug. 15 “Women Celebrating Women” day sponsored by the women’s council at St. Mary.

The biggest fundraiser for the new building was a sale of commemorative bricks for a memorial wall.

Memorial bricks were sold as a fundraiser for the hall and were placed in the shape of a San Damiano cross, a symbol of the Franciscan’s mission from God. (Provided)The bricks were placed in the shape of a San Damiano cross on the west wall.  The cross is regarded by Franciscans as a symbol of their mission from God, and it was chosen because the order has served St. Mary since 1943.

That year, Franciscans of the Holy Name Province from New York City started the parish to serve the African-American community in Anderson County.  Over the years, it has become a multicultural parish.

The bricks drew an immediate response, said Tony Soignoli, chairman of the building committee. Eighty people purchased them at $400 for the first brick and $300 for the second.

Other funds for the addition came from those who purchased bricks for an outside patio, from offertory donations and a donation from the Franciscan Province in memory of Father Thaddeus Sapio, OFM, who served as parochial vicar at St. Mary for two years and died in 2009. The new addition will be called The Father Thaddeus Sapio Wing.

“It was all put in the hands of the parishioners,” Father Aubrey said. “I told them we could do it if they wanted it badly enough. I thought it would take longer, but when we decided to go ahead with it, they came forward.”

The social hall is the third phase in a building program which included the construction of a new church, completed in 2007, and then eight new classrooms inside the old church building.

Soignoli said the generous response to the fundraising effort surpassed his expectations, and it’s an example of both God’s work and the dedication of St. Mary’s members.

“I didn’t believe anything that was going on, I thought it was uncanny,” he said. “The spirit seems to have been there … the miracle just keeps on happening.”