Edisto mission plans to build God’s house by the sea

EDISTO ISLAND—Descendants of the earliest Catholic faithful on Edisto Island know what it means to build a church. After generations of prayer, planning, and fundraising, this little mission by the sea hope to break ground this year for a new house of worship for Sts. Frederick & Stephen Mission.

“That’s going to be a special moment,” said Matthew Kizer, whose family was one of the earliest Catholic residents on Edisto Beach. His grandfather, Stephen Flowers Sr., moved to the island in the 1920s and donated a beach lot to the mission in the 1950s so a church could be built.

Back then, people would drive about an hour across dirt roads and a rickety drawbridge to the closest Sunday Mass at St. Mary Church on Yonges Island.

Since that bequeathal, members have learned the meaning of “God’s time.” After years of waiting for a decision about building a new church, Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler said in 1979 that the beach lot was too small for a church and its required parking, so the property was sold in favor of five acres a mile from the surf.

Today, beachgoers heading south on S.C. Highway 174 can see a white metal structure across the road from the Edisto Island Post Office. The structure can only hold about 100 people, but the new church will have room for up to 300.

“Sundays during the summer, we are busting at the seams,” Kizer said. “When the bishop comes in July to say Mass, he will see the people lined up outside the door.”

Summer tourists have done more than visit Sts. Frederick & Stephen Mission. Visitors have helped the small year-round community raise more than $900,000 since 2002 toward the design and construction of a new building. The total budget is about $1.4 million, Kizer said.

“We need a bigger church,” he said, adding that the design will respect the island’s history. “We want it to look like it has been here for 100 years. And, we want it to be built to last so it will be here for another 200 years.”

Renderings of the new church show a style that could warmly greet visitors and year-round residents who know Edisto Island’s rich history — from the Edisto Indians in the 1500s to early colonial settlers through the cotton plantation era and post-Civil War recovery and into today’s modern land development.

“There was a time when you could stand on one side of the island and see clear across to the other side. There were no trees, only cotton. That’s how valuable the land was,” Kizer said.

Deacon Charles LaRosa said the older metal building will be converted into administrative office space and serve as a family life center. Design plans have not been finalized and will need approval by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and the diocese. Additional plans hope to include a memorial garden and columbarium.

Construction is expected to be complete by Christmas 2017.

Father John Bosco Duraisamy just joined the mission in February and has previous experience with building a large faith-based community.

“I see great enthusiasm in the people,” he said. “It’s high time to build.”

The plans may be for a material church, but for Byron Briese it is more than a building. Once the doors open next year, the structure will embody the spirit of the two dozen families that actively engage their faith year-round.

“It’s been a dream for a long time,” said Briese, a member since 2011. “It’s really special to be involved in what we hope to be a landmark for years to come. We’re a very small parish. If you don’t step up and participate, then it doesn’t happen.”

Briese said anyone who wants to help in the planning and building process can contact Father Duraisamy or Deacon LaRosa. Additionally, anyone who would like to contribute to the building fund can also consider dedicating a pew or stained glass window. The church’s building committee can be reached at edistocatholic@gmail.com.


By Rhesa Versola  |  The Catholic Miscellany


Image provided: An artist’s rendering shows the plan for a new Sts. Frederick & Stephen Mission on Edisto Island.