Chapel helped St. Andrew parish grow in faith

St. Andrew Chapel, Clemson

St. Andrew Chapel, ClemsonCLEMSON—For 75 years, a small chapel has been a quiet witness to the growth of the Catholic community in a region known as the Golden Corner of South Carolina.

St. Andrew parish will celebrate that building’s 75th anniversary on Dec. 8 with a Mass.

Edie Smoak, parish historian, said the chapel was built in a time when Catholics were a distinct minority in the Upstate and frequently had to deal with prejudice.

Smoak wrote about the area in a 2006 book, “Roots and Visions,” where she detailed how priests traveled from Columbia and later from St. Mary Church in Greenville to celebrate Mass in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Priests from St. Joseph Church in Anderson served the town of Calhoun, later to become Clemson, in the early ’30s. They were concerned that Catholic cadets at nearby Clemson College weren’t attending Mass regularly, so James Gallivan of Greenville donated money to build a chapel. A site at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Sloane Street was chosen. Benedictine Father Michael McInerney designed the Gothic structure, and Msgr. Andrew Gwynn designed the sanctuary.

The Chapel of St. Andrew the Apostle was dedicated on Dec. 8, 1935, by Bishop Emmet W. Walsh.

In 1940, St. Andrew became the center of a sprawling new parish that included Oconee, Pickens and parts of northern Anderson counties. Bishop Walsh asked priests from the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle to serve the burgeoning community, where they remained until 2006.

The chapel’s space was too small for the continued growth so Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler dedicated a new church in 1979.

The chapel has been lovingly preserved for 31 years, and is still used for special services and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Members of St. Andrew are proud of the building’s interior, which includes flagstone floors, a gold-plated bronze tabernacle, stained glass windows and timbered ceilings.

Smoak, who has belonged to St. Andrew for 36 years, attended Mass at the chapel the week after her family moved from Columbia. People there were friendly, she said, and welcomed her, a new mother with a three-week-old baby.

She raised all five of her children in the parish, and remembers occasionally sitting with her family on the church steps during Mass when all the seats were taken.

The chapel also offered comfort on Sept. 11, 2001. One of Smoak’s daughters worked at the Pentagon then, she said.

“She wasn’t at work that day but her office was blown up. When I heard, the first thing I did was go up to the chapel to pray,” she said. “It has that kind of atmosphere. You want to be there in times of crisis.  It’s just a gem of a building and has such a prayerful atmosphere.”

St. Andrew Church has a membership of more than 627 and serves the missions of St. Francis in Walhalla and St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca. Smoak said members usually refer to the three as the Catholic community of Sts. Andrew, Francis and Paul. 

Father H. Gregory West is the administrator, and Franciscan Father John W. McDowell serves as campus chaplain for Clemson University.