SUMMERTON—Open the doors of St. Mary Mission and you will be immersed in quiet, sacred beauty. On sunny days, light streams in through the vintage stained glass windows and falls on the heads of people praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, perched in a shining monstrance on the wooden altar. A sea green carpet muffles the footsteps of those who come and go from the small mission building on Cantey Street.
Just two months ago, the vision was very different. St. Mary didn’t even have floorboards then.
They had to be ripped out to repair the damage left behind when nearly a foot of water washed through the church during October’s devastating floods.
Since then, new flooring, carpeting, wiring, and insulation has been completed. Pews, statues and other furniture that were in a storage container on church property are back in place. Grateful members of the mission celebrated its reopening with a morning Mass on April 3, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Tracy Bates, claims risk manager for Catholic Mutual Group, said the historic wooden building on Cantey Street is one of the most vivid examples of how properties around the diocese have bounced back after the flood, which led to 16 counties around the state being designated as federal disaster areas.
“We’re ready to issue the final payments for the cleaning of the pews there in Summerton, and it is great to see them up and running,” Bates said. “It’s great to see because that church took a big hit — they were completely submerged. Along with them, everything else that had to be fixed around the diocese is more or less up and running as well. We’re just waiting to deal with a few small bills.”
Bates said some repairs are still being completed but most places that took on water are functioning normally.
Carpeting and baseboards at the Carter-May Residence for assisted living in Charleston had to be replaced. Repairs have also been completed in the office at Sacred Heart Church, and floors, carpets and other materials were replaced at Blessed Sacrament School in Charleston, where about two inches of water covered the ground floor.
At Charleston Catholic School, repairs are still being done on an electric gate that parallels King Street. The elevator, a storage cabinet and some other areas needed fixing, and new paint was needed in several places.
Bates said insurance covered many of the repairs but diocesan money had to be used in other cases where the damages were not covered. Summerton, she said, was not covered by insurance because St. Mary was not technically in a flood plain.
“As a result of all this, we are revisiting the flood mapping and paying more attention to some of our locations,” Bates said. “We’ve learned that it’s better to be proactive than to be reactive. I think if anything, this whole experience with the floods has brought people together. It’s a good test of faith and it shows how many people can come together and work together to help each other out.”
While the Summerton church was being repaired, members attended Mass in nearby Manning or Santee, but still showed up at the Cantey Street property for Scripture study and monthly breakfasts in the parish hall, said Barbara Shontere, who has attended the little church since she moved to the area from Maryland in the 1990s.
“We wanted to make sure people knew we were still open, and wanted to still have a presence here,” Shontere said. “We all love this little church very much.”
Shontere said she even received phone calls of concern from former members who now live out of town and people who have only visited St. Mary a few times while traveling in the area. Recently, men from North Carolina and Connecticut stopped by the church while passing through just to see if it had survived the floods.
Father Maximino Tria, who is pastor at St. Mary Mission, plus St. Mary, Our Lady of Hope Church in Manning, and St. Ann Church in Santee, wanted people to know the little church would make a comeback. During the Christmas season, he insisted lights and decorations be put on the outside of the church. Recently, he arranged for it to serve as a site for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament 12 hours a day.
New doors were part of the rebuilding at St. Mary Mission, and above them is a brand new stained glass panel with the words “St. Mary.” It was crafted by Jerry Luther, who moved to the Summerton area from Canton, Ohio, and has attended the little church with his wife Bonnie Luther since 2007.
“It took me about three weeks to complete it,” Mr. Luther said. “It was important for me to do it. I was proud to be able to do something because we really enjoy worshipping here.”
Top photo: Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss