St. Philip Neri remains steadfast after 25 years

FORT MILLSt. Philip Neri Church started out as a traveling community of believers.

In 1993, about 50 families began meeting together as the Fort Mill/Tega Cay Catholic Community. They attended Mass in borrowed space at local churches, then a country club.

Provided: Parishioners participate in a Habitat for Humanity service project on June 23 to celebrate their history of faith and outreach.

On June 23, members of the parish came together to celebrate their 25th anniversary and reflect on remarkable growth. From that first small group, membership has grown to 2,800 households and is still climbing.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated the anniversary Mass in St. Philip Neri’s spacious brick church, which was dedicated in 2013. Earlier in the day, members of the parish attended prayer services, the Knights of Columbus held a pancake breakfast, and parishioners took part in a building project for Habitat for Humanity as a way of honoring their tradition of faith and community service.

Oratorian Father John Giuliani, pastor, has been at St. Philip Neri since the very beginning. He well remembers the years of moving from place to place for Mass as attendance grew.

Finally, in 1998, he said the parish found a permanent home on eight acres off Munn Road near Interstate 77. Members gathered first in a combination worship center and parish hall that now sits adjacent to the church. Father Giuliani said one of the best parts of the day was a “mortgage burning” held after Mass.

Provided: (Left to right) Oratorian Father Ed McDevitt, Oratorian Father John Giuliani (pastor), Deacon Ron Dwyer and Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone participate in a “mortgage burning” to celebrate St. Philip Neri being debt free.

“It feels good to see the growth that has happened here,” Father Giuliani said. “We started off moving around like gypsies, and now our new church is paid off and we’re one of the largest parishes in the diocese in one of the fastest growing communities in the country.”

Provided: Members of Knights of Columbus Council 12366 prepare a pancake breakfast to start the anniversary festivities.

He also is proud of the impact St. Philip Neri has had on the faith community in the Fort Mill area. In 2008, the parish started an outreach in the Indian Land community near Lancaster, holding Mass at a recreation center and then in other borrowed spaces. That effort has since grown into Our Lady of Grace Church, which has its own building off Waxhaw Highway.

“I feel good about what we’ve been able to do here, like a papa seeing children grow and mature,” Father Giuliani said. “St. Philip Neri is a friendly church, very dynamic, with dedicated people both young and old and many young families.”

The church also now offers more than 50 different ministries, and hosts diverse liturgies, including weekly Spanish Masses and a newly established Byzantine mission on Saturdays. Father Giuliani was especially touched that the Byzantine priest, who flies in weekly from Florida, plus a Byzantine deacon and guest altar servers, attended the celebration.

“That was a very significant gesture to me because it showed the universality of the Church,” he said.

Bill and Debbie Wolfe of Tega Cay are charter members of St. Philip Neri. The couple was part of the original group of 50 families who started meeting together in 1993, and Mr. Wolfe served on the first finance council for the fledgling Catholic community.

Mr. Wolfe recalled when volunteers had to load missalettes and other supplies into the backseats of their cars to carry to the borrowed spaces each week for Mass.

As St. Philip Neri grew over the years, the Wolfe family grew with it. Their children were born and raised there and grew up in the church.

“It’s been a pretty amazing journey to experience the growth firsthand over the years, to come from those first grassroots days to the large, diverse, and friendly community we have now,” he said.