BEAUFORT—Members of St. Peter Church are working to preserve two important parts of South Carolina Catholic history.
The Chapel of St. Peter’s, built in 1846, and its cemetery sit on a quiet corner of Carteret Street in downtown Beaufort, shaded by live oaks and palmetto trees.
Parishioners worshipped for more than 100 years in the white wooden building until crowds grew too big and spilled onto the steps and sidewalk in the 1980s, according to a published church history.
The congregation relocated a few miles away to Lady’s Island in 1987, where Bishop Robert J. Baker dedicated the current St. Peter in 2006. The former site, used for perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for many years, has been approved for repairs.
St. Peter’s preservation committee wants to reopen the chapel for weddings, baptisms and special services. They also hope to have it placed on the National Register for Historic Places, said committee member Pat Green.
Since 2006, volunteers have been caring for the chapel cemetery, clearing debris and documenting the graves. On Nov. 14, about 50 people attended a blessing of the cemetery led by Deacon Edward Peitler. It was held at 10 a.m. to mark the exact time of the 165th anniversary of the original dedication led by Bishop Ignatius A. Reynolds, the diocese’s second bishop.
According to the published history, Catholics in the Beaufort area had no place to attend Mass until 1846. An Irish immigrant named Michael O’Connor deeded the Carteret Street property to the diocese and paid for the original building.
O’Connor and members of his family are buried behind a wrought-iron fence directly behind the chapel, with a large marble obelisk for a marker.
At the Nov. 14 blessing, Theresa Pulliam, a parishioner and O’Connor descendant, laid a wreath on his grave and marveled at the history.
“I attended church here as a young girl and I’ve been here ever since,” Pulliam said. “I just love this place.”
Other graves mark the resting places of ship captains and merchants, Confederate veterans, a priest, and a Beaufort woman who became a well-known actress on the Broadway stage. Lambs, tiny crosses and flat stones also mark the graves of many children.
One of the most ornate gravestones tells one of the cemetery’s most interesting stories. Lillie Small and her young child were lost in a shipwreck off Martha’s Vineyard in 1884. Relatives identified her body and she was brought back to Beaufort for burial.
Jeanne Aimar, a lifelong member of St. Peter, proudly shows her family’s plot, which includes the graves of her parents and her great-grandfather, Franklin Talbird, a founding member who in 1857 built the brick wall that partially surrounds the chapel property.
Aimar grew up only a few blocks from the original church and recalls attending Mass every Sunday. She said her family always sat in the front row, a tradition she continued when the new church opened.
As a child, she would help the organist pump the organ during Mass. If members of her family were looking for her, Aimar said they would often find her just sitting in the church by herself.
“I just loved to sit in the church, just being in the building,” she said. “This place has such meaning to me. How can I express it? It just has a special warmth to it.”