St. Paul the Apostle rejoices in new church after 20 year wait

SPARTANBURG—After 20 years of attending Mass in a gymnasium, members of St. Paul the Apostle Church can rejoice in a soaring new worship space.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone led a Rite of Dedication on Dec. 9 for a crowd whose enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by cold temperatures, rain or fog.

The bishop received a copy of the building designs and keys for the new church, then said “Go within His gates giving thanks, enter His courts with songs of praise!”

The procession included Knights of Columbus, members of parish, fraternal and social organizations, students from St. Paul the Apostle School, and religious leaders from other churches and synagogues. More than 20 priests, including former pastors and parochial vicars, attended the ceremony.

Bishop Guglielmone anointed the altar and walls and incensed the altar and church. Members of the parish dressed the altar, where the bishop then deposited relics of St. Peregrine Laziosi, who was miraculously cured of cancer and is the patron of cancer patients.

“You might say it’s about time, isn’t it?” he said at the beginning of his homily. “This beautiful edifice speaks to your commitment to provide a worship space where everybody can find the presence of God.”

The bishop reflected on the fact that the ceremony fell on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. He said Mary’s role of bringing Jesus into the world is similar to a Christian’s responsibility to share the Gospel with the world.

“If this building is to have any meaning, what happens inside here also has to have an effect in the streets outside,” he said.

The 18,000-square-foot church seats 850 and faces East Main Street. It was designed by Duncan G. Stroik of Indiana, and Harper Corporation of Greenville handled the construction.

One of the most striking features is the baldacchino, a marble, wood and plaster canopy over the altar standing 39½ feet tall and topped with a gilded cross. Similar canopies are often found in older churches, especially in Europe, but are not as common in the United States.

“It’s a method of focusing the attention to the most important spot in the church, which is the altar,” said Jamie Lacourt, project manager for Duncan Stroik. “In very large churches, altars often get lost in the vast expanse, and this is one of the things you can use to bring attention back to it.”

Tall, clear windows allow dramatic amounts of natural light into the church during the day, and may eventually be replaced by stained glass. The walls and ceiling are done in shades of cream and gold.

Spartanburg area artists produced the Stations of the Cross, paintings at the rear of the building and two limestone sculptures on the outside, said Joseph Lauer, project manager. Statues of Mary and Joseph and the crucifix were brought over from the nearby parish hall and gymnasium.

At the end of the celebratory Mass, Father Timothy Gahan, pastor, looked around and smiled.

“I could get used to this place,” he said. “This is truly the day the Lord has made. I thank the many who have sacrificed so much and worked so hard to make the long-held communal dream of this glorious church a reality.”

The building cost about $10 million and was the result of 20 years of planning, said Christopher Crowley, a lifelong member of St. Paul and chairman of the steering committee.

“Every time we had to slow down, it worked out for the best, like God wanted it to slow down,” he said. “It worked out that we raised money during a good time and then built during a good time.”

Crowley said the true impact hit him the day before, when a woman he knew saw the new space for the first time and immediately burst into tears.

“Seeing that reaction means more to me than anything,” he said. “That shows the real meaning of what we’ve done here. It’s almost surreal that the project is complete.”

The original church, which dates to 1883, will stay on the property and be used for special events such as baptisms and weddings.

“I believe the new church is going to deepen our religious spirit,” said Catherine Whelchel, a member of the building committee. “It will be a different experience to have a glorious sanctuary to worship in as opposed to folding chairs in the parish hall. I really believe this is going to be the beginning of great growth in our faith and in the Catholic community of Spartanburg as a whole.”

For Jane Hughes Warner, the dedication was a fulfillment of a long family journey that dates back to her grandparents, Maynard and Teresa Hughes, who were early members of the parish. She grew up at St. Paul and raised her four children there.

“The joy is overwhelming,” she said. “We’re no longer the little Catholic church down the street. We’re now front and center.”

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