PICKENS—When Lewis and Helen Ferretti came to Pickens in the early 60s, the Upstate town’s active Catholic community consisted of seven other couples. Attending Mass required a drive to Clemson or Greenville. Mrs. Ferretti recalled a visiting priest would occasionally celebrate the liturgy in private homes.
They also worshipped together in borrowed space at a local funeral home and the American Legion hall.
The Ferrettis moved back to Massachusetts, but they returned to Pickens on May 31 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Holy Cross Church, the parish that grew out of the perseverance and faith of that small group. They were amazed and heartened by what they saw.
Close to 300 people packed the church for an anniversary Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, assisted by Father Emmanuel Efiong, parish administrator, and other priests who have served the church in the past. Jimmy Touzeau, a seminarian for the Diocese of Charleston who grew up at Holy Cross, assisted on the altar.
At the reception afterward, the crowd filled every possible inch of the parish hall downstairs and spilled over into ad-joining rooms and even outside.
“It was just a humbling experience to see everyone there,” Mr. Ferretti said. “We were so impressed with the parishioners who attend the church now. They had such warm, outgoing personalities and we were elated to see how the parish is thriving. We couldn’t believe all this started with just eight couples.”
Holy Cross was originally a mission of St. Andrew Church in Clemson and was served by the Paulist Fathers. Catholics from Pickens, Liberty and Easley started meeting in 1962, and construction of Holy Cross Church began in June 1964. It was funded by the Diocese of Charleston and the Catholic Extension Service, along with donations from Mary Sartorius, a woman from New York City who was friends with some of the early parishioners.
Holy Cross was dedicated on May 16, 1965, by Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler and elevated to parish status in 1991.
In April 2014, Holy Cross received a more modern look from a massive renovation project that included expansion of the narthex and space around the altar, relocation of the cry room, choir area, sacristy and confessionals, and a new elevator and handicapped-accessible restrooms. The red-tiled, flat-topped dome that many early members referred to as the “Pizza Hut roof” was replaced by a new roof and distinctive cross.
The parish currently serves about 205 households, including a growing Hispanic community.
Bob Chrismer, who moved to Pickens in 1956 and now lives near Easley, remembers the days when the faithful worshipped at the local Legion Hall. He and other men moved pews from a closed mission in the nearby town of Fair Play into the hall to make that space feel more like a real church.
He said after the small congregation moved into the building in 1965, they increased in size but carried on with the hard work and can-do spirit that developed when the first members met in borrowed space.
“We were a small group that was happy if we got $150 in the collection basket on Sunday,” he said. “Because of that and the fact that everybody was involved and interested in the church, a lot of the daily stuff was done by parishioners. We took care of the grounds, cleaned the church, whatever had to be done. We didn’t farm much out. We’ve always been a close-knit church of people who are very cooperative and friendly.”
Chrismer, whose hobby is woodworking, is also proud of the fact that he crafted the altar and some of the furniture at Holy Cross, plus all of the furniture at the parish mission, St. Luke in Easley.
Doris Kelsey and her late husband Jim Kelsey were also two of the founding members of Holy Cross. She remembers when her son, Patrick, was the only altar boy in the parish and when she and other women spearheaded early efforts at teaching religious education. Mrs. Kelsey recalled her husband shedding tears of joy during the parish’s 25th anniversary celebration.
“He showed so much happiness that the parish had grown and become such a success, and I thought about him during the 50th,” she said. “He and the others who helped start this church affected a lot of lives and I want to as well. I want this church to grow and thrive for future generations to come.”
Father Efiong said the 50th celebration was a beautiful occasion that bodes well for the faith in Pickens.
“It gives me a lot of hope because if we can do this kind of celebration, we can help the church grow in the future here,” he said. “You could see the spirit the people of this parish have and their enthusiasm. These people are energetic and enthusiastic about their church. They want to be involved.”
Photos: Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss