PAWLEYS ISLAND—Lillian Szabo and other long-time members of Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island remember the days when they attended Mass in a converted four-car garage.
The years have brought dramatic change and growth to the parish, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month.
People now worship in a large, airy sanctuary on several acres that also includes a parish hall and athletic fields. Membership has grown from a few dozen families in the mid ’80s to nearly 1,000 households, not including the hundreds of tourists who visit. The dynamic parish sponsors dozens of activities and ministries, including many social outreach programs that provide food, financial help and other assistance to needy people in Georgetown County.
“It feels great to be celebrating all this growth that’s happened here,” said Father Patrick J. Stenson. “I know some of the original members thought there would never be a parish here, and now they have a great community where people can feel at home, find fulfillment and accomplish a lot for people in need.”
Father Stenson is a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and has been parish administrator since 1999.
A history of Precious Blood, written by member Sherby McGrath, has been running in installments in the weekly bulletins, www.pbocchurch.com.
It states that Catholics in the island resort community originally had to drive to Georgetown or Garden City to attend Mass. Precious Blood was first established as an unnamed mission of St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Church in Georgetown in 1984.
Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler bought 6.6 acres of land along what was then known as Shell Road. The property included a white stucco house, where the mission’s first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day. There was also a pond and a four-car garage, which later became the parish’s worship space for more than a decade.
“When we first came in there, it was kind of primitive, with spiderwebs and birds’ nests up in the rafters,” Szabo said.
In those early days, McGrath said, the church had to rely on borrowed vestments and altar cloths.
A parishioner built the first altar, which now is used in a chapel of the main church.
“People had to pitch in because there was nothing else to do,” she said. “That’s the attitude people here have had up until this day. You ask for a volunteer and 50 hands go up in the air.”
Worshippers at first stood and knelt on concrete floors and sat in folding chairs, but over the years the garage was eventually converted into a more comfortable, if at times cramped, space for Mass.
Precious Blood was officially established as a parish on Feb. 25, 1986 and experienced steady growth. A building pledge campaign was launched in 1996, and groundbreaking for the new church was held in August 1997.
The current church, which seats more than 800 people, was dedicated on June 6, 1999, the Feast of Corpus Christi, also considered the parish feast day. That four-car garage, now known as Founders Hall, has a new life as the home of one of the church’s most beloved outreach programs: Father Pat’s Kitchen. Since 2007, volunteers at the kitchen have served thousands of meals to needy people in the area.