ABBEVILLE —For 125 years, Sacred Heart Church has been the spiritual home for Catholics in the small town of Abbeville.
Parishioners praise the quiet beauty of the white neo-Gothic church, located at the corner of Main and East Pinckney streets, and the family atmosphere that has developed over the years.
They will commemorate the church’s history with an anniversary Mass at 3 p.m. Oct. 21, celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.
The event is invitation only because the small church holds only about 90 people comfortably, said Dee Mountford, parish secretary.
According to its history, John J. Enright, an Irishman who settled in the area during the mid-19th century, willed land for the construction of a church in Abbeville to the Diocese of Charleston. Father John J. Monaghan, pastor of St. Mary Church in Greenville, supervised construction of Sacred Heart, and Bishop Henry Northrop dedicated it on Oct. 24, 1885. The church is the fourth oldest in Abbeville.
For most of its first 90 years, Sacred Heart was a mission served by Greenville, Anderson and Greenwood. In the late 1970s, Good Shepherd Church in McCormick became a mission of Sacred Heart under the leadership of Father Ernie Bowen.
The parish has seen its share of challenges. In 1985, heat and smoke from a fire in the basement destroyed the church interior and severely damaged many stained glass windows. The sanctuary and windows were eventually restored to their original beauty.
Many priests have served as spiritual leaders, but sometimes no one was available to celebrate Mass.
Sister Joan Kobe, of the Daughters of Wisdom, was the pastoral administrator for seven years beginning in 1994.
“She would find priests for us, sometimes fly them in to celebrate Mass for us,” Mountford said. “They often would consecrate enough hosts to carry us through for several Sundays if we had to have a Communion service instead of a Mass. The church has held together all these years. We’re not big, but we manage to keep afloat.”
Father Allam Marreddy has led the parish for the past eight years, and has worked to both refurbish Sacred Heart’s physical building and nourish the parish spiritually. Membership is comprised of 69 households.
Mountford said generosity has been key to the church’s survival and much of its beauty.
Through donations, Sacred Heart’s members built a prayer garden adjacent to the church that was dedicated in May 2008. The garden includes a large marble statue of Our Lady of Grace and many flowering plants.
Parishioners have also worked hard to prepare for the anniversary celebration. Members donated a new statue of St. Joseph for the sanctuary to replace one lost in the 1985 fire, and a Hispanic family recently donated a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Mountford said the small church has a beauty all its own.
“To me, it’s like a little cathedral,” she said. “Big churches are beautiful, but when I go in this little church, I feel closer to God.”
Long time members say Sacred Heart’s small size lets them be part of a caring community.
Mary White joined the parish in 1970 when her husband was transferred to Abbeville from nearby Greenwood. Over the past 40 years, she said she has taught Sunday school, been a member of the women’s club, “and held just about every type of office possible.”
Her brother, James Cothran, is the landscape architect who designed the prayer garden.
“This church just has a special feeling to it,” White said. “To me, it’s more like a family. You’re closer to people in a small church, you know everybody and they know you. We have a good time, because there are good people here and we just enjoy being together.”
Susan Berry grew up attending Sacred Heart, and remembers going to religious education classes in the sanctuary or the church basement. The parish hall wasn’t built until 1965.
Berry left the area to attend college in Atlanta and Buffalo, N.Y. She later returned to Abbeville, had her marriage blessed at Sacred Heart and raised her two children there. Now the retired high school teacher said she values her parish even more.
“When I was in Buffalo, I attended a big, big Catholic church and it just wasn’t the same,” she said. “There’s something special about a small church when at Communion time, you can look at each person and you know their name. We’re very proud of Sacred Heart and that it’s been here for all these years. It’s just a small, warm, caring and devout parish.”