WINNSBORO—The more things change, the more things at St. Theresa Church stay the same.
Parishioners celebrated the church’s 50th anniversary on June 2, and along with it, a reputation as the epitome of a close-knit community.
“Things seem to be picking up a little bit here,” said longtime parishioner Nancy Watkins. “But we’re still a small church and we always will be.”
St. Theresa was founded in 1851 to serve the Columbia Deanery and has been at its current site in Winnsboro since 1968. Watkins and her husband Tris have been members since before the doors opened. In those days, the parish attended Mass at the Economy Drugstore downtown.
Watkins said the “new” parish in 1968 started out with around 18 families. Today, close to 30 are regular attendees. And as is the case with many small town churches, membership is driven by the local economy.
“When the Mack (Truck) plant opened up here in the ’80s, a lot of families moved down here from Pennsylvania and were active in the church,” Watkins said. “But when the plant closed, most of them moved back up North. So we’ve been right at 30 families for the last 10-15 years.”
While St. Theresa has maintained its small but steady base of families, the church has come a long way since celebrating Mass at the local drug store.
Msgr. James LeBlanc was assigned to St. Theresa in February 2017, and also serves as pastor of Transfiguration Church in Blythewood. The faithful have welcomed his enthusiasm and praised his dedication, acknowledging the challenging task for a priest serving two churches.
“I think our biggest upgrade has been in our parishioners,” said Aldean Brock, a parishioner for more than 15 years. “And Father LeBlanc is responsible for that. We’ve gotten some families to join us from over in Blythewood, and they’ve fit right in. He’s truly been a blessing.”
But Msgr. LeBlanc’s biggest contribution may be a major upgrade to the church’s calendar. A few weeks after being assigned to the parish, he celebrated Holy Thursday Mass. It was the first time area Catholics have been able to celebrate the full Easter Triduum.
“That was fantastic, being able to have (the Easter Triduum) here,” Watkins said. “We [had] never done it before and [now] we’ve had great turnouts both years.
“With a priest split between two churches, that’s hard to do,” she added. “But that just tells us how much he wants to be here and how much good he wants to do for this church.”
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated the 50th anniversary Mass. He reminded parishioners of the reason the faithful have come to worship over the decades.
“Think about the 50 years that people have come to this place, of all of the various times that people have gathered here to celebrate the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Guglielmone said during his homily. “It all comes out of the Eucharist. And when people come here, it’s because Jesus dwells in this place, in the Blessed Sacrament.”
By Chip Lupo/Special to The Miscellany
Top photo, Chip Lupo/Miscellany: Msgr. James LeBlanc, pastor, shares a moment with parishioners at the 50th anniversary Mass.