Felician sisters hope to expand facilities

KINGSTREE—The Felician sisters have had such a successful ministry in Kingstree that their outreach center is literally bursting at the seams. To alleviate their space issues, they are planning to build a 6,000-square-foot green facility on property adjacent to one of their homes.

Sisters Johnna Ciezobka and Susanne Dziedzic first came to the area almost 20 years ago, and were joined recently by Sisters Jacqueline Benbenek and Adrian Jumbelic.

The four Felicians share two homes that double as outreach space, along with a third building and two mobile units. All are small, and all are crammed with the tools of their ministry.

The Felician Center, formerly St. Ann Catholic Outreach, has, among other things, a clothes closet, a food pantry, tons of community education classes, and family events.

When food drives are held, the sisters find space for 2,500 cans and boxes of food and no pantry big enough to hold it.

When college students come to the area to help repair homes, they find space for them to sleep and eat.

It is a constant shuffling of things from one place to another, Sister Johnna said.

“We could continue to exist, but our programs are stifled,” she added.

The new building will help. It will house the food pantry, dining hall, kitchen classroom, clothes closet and two offices.

This will free up the other building for education outreach, which is what started it all.

“We have been able to do wonderful things for the poor people in this area, and serve them much better than we thought we could,” Sister Johnna said.

She attributes their good fortune to a piece of advice they received 20 years ago, when they first moved to the area.

A friend told them: Don’t go in there with fancy ideas on what needs to be done; get to know and love the people and they will lead you.

It turned out to be a child who led the way.

Sister Johnna said they had been at the small house on Thorne Avenue for only a few days when a knock came at the door.

They opened it to find a little girl standing there, bookbag in hand.

Her name was Kimberly and she wanted to know when they were going to open.

Sisters Johnna and Susanne welcomed her inside, gave her a cookie, and helped her with homework.

The next day, Kimberly returned with two friends. The third day she had four friends, and the after-school program was born.

From the children, the sisters met all the family members and created additional services to meet their needs. Smiling, Sister Johnna said that first little girl is now a college graduate with a good job.

The Felicians are quick to point out they don’t do it by themselves. They have their parish, the diocese, eight local churches, and Prince of Peace Church in Taylors, which adopted the outreach and makes contributions.

And of course, they have the community itself.

Without the families’ positive influence on the children, and the volunteers who help with everything, the outreach would never have made it, Sister Johnna said.

The feeling is mutual.

A group of ladies enjoying the monthly meal at the outreach talked about how invaluable it has been.

“They help in so many ways — food and clothing. I can’t describe it, they’re amazing,” Gracie Anderson said.

She was led to the outreach by her son, Dashawn, when he was only 3 and used to run to the sisters’ house to visit and eat snacks.

Dashawn starts college in the fall, and his mom is still a volunteer.

Francina Fulton and Mary Smith said their favorite program is the clothes closet.

“We came here all the years our kids were in school,” Fulton said.

“The sisters, they show respect to people in the community, and they get it back,” she added.

Sister Johnna concedes that it isn’t always easy. There are pockets of drug activity and violence, but they never considered living anywhere else. She said they wanted to live among the people they serve, to know their needs and fears.

“We also want to fall on the right side of the Gospel; we don’t judge,” she added.

The Felicians will celebrate their 20th anniversary in Kingstree in August. To mark that milestone, they hope to break ground on their new building in the fall.

In the meantime, Sister Johnna said they are once again looking to the community to help fund the facility, which will cost about $700,000.

A fundraiser was held recently in Greenville and others are being planned.

“We built what we have on $10s and $20s,” she said.

The sisters have faith they can do it again.