Holy Spirit marks 50 years as a uniquely blended parish

EDITOR’S NOTE: The celebration scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 10, has been cancelled due to hurricane Irma. No other information is available at this time. Any updates will be included as they are received.

JOHNS ISLAND—Holy Spirit Church has been a spiritual home to a diverse flock on this barrier island for many decades, ranging from native residents to tourists, retirees and others who discovered the island’s unique blend of rural charm and laid-back resort life.

The parish will celebrate a milestone in their history — the 50th anniversary of Holy Spirit becoming a parish. Originally, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone planned to celebrate a bilingual Mass on Sept. 10, but Hurricane Irma put a damper on those plans. Kathy Coder, church secretary, said that event has been cancelled, but they hope to reschedule it for a future date, when long-time members and newcomers alike can  reflect on their community history, which started back in the days when very few Catholics lived on the island.

In 1938, 18 people on Johns Island formed a mission community that was then referred to as Holy Ghost Parish. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day 1939 in a small wooden church built by men from Charleston, many of whom were Knights of Columbus. That little church was dedicated in May 1940 and housed the group for several decades. It now serves as the chapel for Holy Spirit.

Over the years, the mission on Johns Island was supervised first by Blessed Sacrament Church and then Church of the Nativity. The number of Catholics on Johns Island increased, and Holy Spirit was elevated to parish status on Sept. 7, 1967.

All photos, Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays: Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor, receives a hug from Ella Grace Lindsay after Mass.

Tourism on Johns Island burgeoned over the years with the development of Kiawah and Seabrook Islands, and the number of people attending Mass increased as well. In 1978, a building that doubled as a church and social hall was built.

The numbers attending Holy Spirit continued to climb, including young families, part-time residents and a growing Hispanic community. A new church that seats 1,000 was built in 2005 to meet their needs.

Msgr. Charles Rowland, a native of Charleston, has served as pastor since 2008.

“It’s a joyful time to remember where we came from, reflect on where we are now, and begin to think about how we should project for our wonderful future,” Msgr. Rowland said.

He said new housing construction on Johns Island is encouraging more young families to move there, which brings new challenges to a parish that has served mainly older adults.

“When I first arrived here, we had five children enrolled in religious education, and there are more than 100 now,” Msgr. Rowland said.

Many parents have been asking when a Catholic school will be available closer to the island, and he said the parish is looking for land on Maybank Highway to possibly build a small chapel and school in the future.

“We have a beautiful island that is still partly rural and agricultural, but the urbanization is beginning,” he said. “Some people don’t want change to take place, but the handwriting is on the wall. The challenge is to respond to it in the right way.”

Longtime members of Holy Spirit say their church has managed to accommodate growth and change over the years without losing its sense of community.

Jimmy Kerr and his family attended when Holy Spirit was still a mission and he has enjoyed watching the church grow.

“Holy Spirit has really evolved from a small mission in a rural area to a large, well-functioning parish,” Kerr said. “We have a unique blend of native Charleston-area people and people that have come from many other areas, and it has given us our own special identity.”

Bob and Rosanne Wray started attending Holy Spirit after they moved to Johns Island in 1974. The couple had traveled extensively during Mr. Wray’s career as a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, but eventually retired in Charleston.

Mr. Wray, who had some experience in engineering, helped design and build the parish life center. Mrs. Wray has shown her dedication to the parish she loves by performing a wide variety of duties over the years, from preparing the altar to helping run the “Coffee Club”, which meets after daily Masses. She now uses her skills as a gardener to work on the grounds.

Mrs. Wray also likes to reflect on how her seven children were involved in the church as they grew. A small wooden sign that reads “God is Love”, made by one of her sons for a confirmation project, still hangs in the small chapel.

“We just have a marvelous sense of community at Holy Spirit,” she said. “It’s a very warm parish that helps each other and helps the less fortunate, and we welcome everybody. Many of us have come here from other parts of the country and have found a home here at Holy Spirit.”

Top photo, Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays: Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island celebrates its 50th anniversary as a parish this year.

Msgr. Rowland and Deacon Joe Stocker celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass on Sept. 3.


Peggy Simmons and Caleb Mathewes prepare to hand out collection baskets at Holy Spirit.