St. Philip Neri breaks ground for new church

FORT MILL—St. Philip Neri parishioners started the next phase of growth with a groundbreaking ceremony for their new church.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and Oratorian Father John P. Giuliani, pastor at St. Philip Neri, led the ceremony, which began with prayers and song inside the parish multi-purpose building. It currently does double duty as a worship space and social hall.

The crowd of about 150 sang the “St. Philip Neri Hymn,” originally commissioned for the parish’s 10th anniversary in 2003.

“This is a happy occasion for you as parishioners and a happy one for the Diocese of Charleston because it’s a sign that the church is alive and well,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “We’re growing in leaps and bounds, and this building has served you well, but there is real value in having a place dedicated to the Lord for worship. I offer you all of God’s blessings to allow this project to be a living sign of the presence of Jesus Christ in this community.”

Everyone then moved outside where the bishop, Oratorian priests and parishioners took turns tossing shovelfuls of dirt. Actual construction is set to start later this summer.

This is the latest step in a master building plan that started more than a decade ago with the construction of the multi-purpose and classroom buildings, said Peter Baldridge, a charter member of the parish and chairman of the building committee.

The new structure will combine modern and traditional elements, and is designed by WKWW Architects in Charlotte, who worked closely with the committee.

Plans call for seating 1,200 people. The existing worship area only has room for about 650, and space is often tight at the five Masses offered each weekend, Baldridge said.

Another element is a 3,500-square-foot basement with space for choir practice and additional classrooms.

The cost is estimated at $6.5 million, and more than $3 million has already been raised, Baldridge said.

St. Philip Neri has been one of the fastest-growing parishes in the diocese in recent years, as the Fort Mill area attracts everyone from retirees to young families and absorbs outward sprawl from nearby Charlotte.

Only about 200 families belonged when Father Giuliani helped found the parish 18 years ago. More than 1,800 households are listed as members in 2011.

“We’ve always had the theory of ‘build it and they will come,’” Father Giuliani said. “We know that this church building is very ambitious. It seats twice what we have now, but we feel it will meet the needs for our coming years in the Catholic community of Fort Mill. We wanted to be proactive, to make space for growth.”

The pastor said he once heard this saying attributed to a minister: “If people don’t have a parking spot and a seat, your church won’t grow.” He wants to make sure they have enough of both.

A completion date is set for December 2012. Committee members say construction will begin once they select a contractor.