St. Peter Church is elevated to a basilica

COLUMBIA—A distinguished new title was bestowed upon St. Peter Church on June 24, when it was announced that the historic house of worship on Assembly Street will now be known as the Basilica of St. Peter.

It is the first minor basilica in South Carolina and the 85th in the United States.

The announcement was delivered to packed pews at the 11 a.m. Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. The news carried added significance because it came on the feast day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Diocese of Charleston.

Father Gary Linsky, pastor at St. Peter, read aloud the official declaration from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

The Catholic Dictionary defines a basilica as a church of particular religious or historical importance that has been granted special privileges by the pope. The word basilica comes from a Greek term that means “royal house.”

There are four major basilicas, all in Rome. Minor basilicas are located both in Rome and around the world, and traditionally are named because of historical, artistic and architectural importance and significance as a center of worship.

“St. Peter is a church of history and beauty, a place where Liturgy is celebrated well, and a center of all sorts of outreach,” Bishop Guglielmone said in his homily. “The honor of being named a basilica is an indication that this church is in very strong communion with the Holy Father.”

The idea of seeking the designation of basilica was first proposed in late 2016 by Mark Husey, former music director at the parish.

Two parishioners, Darryl Williams and William Neglia, helped with the research and extensive documentation required to apply for the honor. Father Renaurd West assisted with translating the application materials from Latin into English. Father Linsky said there were 117 specific questions that needed to be answered.

The entire process took about 18 months, which is unusually quick by Vatican standards, Father Linsky said.

“There is an overwhelming sense of awe at the honor we have received from Rome, and now that honor brings with it great responsibility,” Father Linsky said after the Mass. “God has blessed us and we have done great things here, but now we must build for the future. Our overarching responsibility now is to build the kingdom of God here, build the faith of those who worship here, and maintain the vibrancy at St. Peter.”

St. Peter was established in 1821 when Bishop John England sent Father Dennis Corkery to Columbia to minister to Irish laborers who were building the Columbia Canal. Construction of the original church started in 1824, and that building survived the burning of Columbia during the Civil War. The current church was built in 1907.

St. Peter is only the second church in the Southeast that can claim the honor of hosting a papal visit. St. John Paul II visited the parish for an ecumenical prayer service during his trip to Columbia in September 1987.