COLUMBIA—St. Martin de Porres Church is celebrating its 75th year of serving the faithful in a manner befitting its namesake.
Although the building has changed over the years, the core mission of welcoming all people, regardless of race or economic status, has remained the same.
Sonia Canzater, chairman of the 75th anniversary committee, said it is that spirit of diversity that first attracted her to the parish.
As a New York native, she was accustomed to a wide mix of people and Mass celebrated in several languages. When she and her husband Randy moved back to his hometown, they spent some time looking for a church home, she said.
They finally found it at St. Martin de Porres.
“I immediately felt at home when I went there after visiting several different parishes,” Canzater said.
She has been on the parish council since 2008 and helped plan the various festivities. The main event will be Mass held Nov. 21 at 10 a.m., although the official anniversary is Dec. 15.
It was on that date back in 1935 that St. Martin de Porres Church was dedicated by Bishop Emmet M. Walsh. At that time, it was known as Blessed Martin de Porres Mission for Colored Catholics.
According to church history, it started in an antebellum home on the corner of Hampton and Oak Streets in the historic Waverly community. It also housed the parish school and rectory, with activity rooms in the basement.
Bishop Walsh asked the Dominican Friars in New York to help out and they sent Father Thomas Weiland, OP, as the first priest. Later, the arrival of Dominican Father O.T. Carl in 1953 marked a period of tremendous growth of the parish, including construction of a new church, convent and school.
The little chapel held 130 people and served the community until the grand new church was built under the leadership of Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams. It was dedicated by Bishop Robert J. Baker in 2007.
Geraldine Douglas, church secretary, said she has been a member since 1997 and has seen a lot of changes, not just in the church building, but in the parish itself.
Many people were emotionally connected to the old chapel and hoped they could keep it in some capacity, but understood they needed something bigger for the well-being of the faith community.
Douglas said it was difficult before because they didn’t have enough space for large functions. The worst was when a parishioner died and the funeral had to be held at a different church.
“Now we can provide for the parish,” she said.
Father Williams said the new church can accommodate 400 people, with space for an extra 200 if needed. He spoke of the theme of a New Jerusalem — “Behold I make all things new” (Rev 21:6-8) — and the beautiful stained glass windows that mirror this concept.
“There’s a better spirit,” he said. “People are very proud of the building.”
He hopes to harness that spirit for his next goal, now that the church is finished, and concentrate on an evangelization mission.
Father Williams said he wants to reach out to students at Allen University and Benedict College, Catholics who aren’t attending church, and all their unchurched neighbors, co-workers and friends.
Also, while they don’t have the funds for a new school right now, he wants to increase enrollment.
In the meantime, the parish will continue to celebrate all they have accomplished over the last 75 years.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone will be the homilist at the anniversary Mass, which will also include a musical presentation, Canzater said.
A luncheon will follow at the Clarion Hotel with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin as guest speaker, along with longtime members and youth who will speak about what the church means to them.