Bicentennial celebration begins with prayer

Bishop reflects on the start of diocese and growth as holy land

Miscellany/Doug Deas: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone leads a Solemn Sung Vespers at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist July 11 to begin the celebration of the Diocese of Charleston’s 200th anniversary.

CHARLESTON—The Diocese of Charleston’s Bicentennial Celebration officially started  on July 11 with voices raised in song and prayer at a Solemn Sung Vespers service at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone was the celebrant. 

The Cathedral’s choir offered solemn yet beautiful accompaniment to the hymns, psalms and antiphons that make up the Vespers service. Men and women of all ages attended, including visiting priests and women religious. 

It was a prayerful and reflective beginning to a year-long celebration that will last until summer 2020. Each deanery will host individual prayer services to formally kick off bicentennial observances, which will include events across the Palmetto State, culminating with a closing celebration in Columbia. 

The Basilica of St. Peter in Columbia held its vespers service on July 12 and the Aiken Deanery has announced its service will be held July 26 at Old St. Mary’s Church.

Miscellany/Doug Deas: Jim Roche prays during the vespers service at the Cathedral.

The diocese officially came into existence on July 11, 1820, when it was canonically erected by Pope Pius VII. Originally the Diocese of Charleston included all of Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. 

During his homily at the Basilica in Columbia, Msgr. Richard Harris noted that the presence of Catholics pre-dates the diocese, going back to the Revolution, or even as far back as 1526 when Spanish explorers roamed the area.

“Imagine the number of  Sacraments that have been celebrated,” he said, pointing how much the diocese has grown and thrived. “Surely the Lord has poured his blessings on the Diocese of Charleston.”

The readings for the service at the Cathedral included a passage from Revelation 21: 2-3, which begins with the phrase “I saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God.” 

In his homily, Bishop Guglielmone said this verse was relevant because it prompts reflection on what must have been going through the mind of Bishop John England when he came to South Carolina from Ireland to serve as the first bishop of the new diocese.

“Did he envision a new Jerusalem being created here? Did he imagine the new future of the Church with God himself dwelling in the new diocese?” Bishop Guglielmone asked. “The challenges facing him were massive. He was coming to a strange land with small pockets of Catholics scattered in various areas, few priests, and a place where Catholics were not always accepted.”

Bishop Guglielmone also mentioned the holy men and women who later became saints that journeyed to the diocese over the years. St. Katharine Drexel came to  South Carolina in 1929, St. Teresa of Calcutta visited Charleston in 1982, and St. John Paul II was in Columbia in 1987 for a whirlwind visit that included a Mass celebrated at Williams-Brice Stadium. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who was recently beatified, also visited South Carolina. 

“The saints have walked among us because this is a holy land,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “This has also been the home of other saints, those men and women we knew who lived in the presence of God but were not recognized by the Church.

“We have holy ground in this diocese because of the holy people who have lived and who live here now … we fervently pray the Holy Spirit will guide and strengthen our Church as we forge ahead into a new century,” he said. 

Miscellany/Doug Deas: Altar servers and clergy process out after the vespers service at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.


Msgr. Richard Harris, vicar general (center), leads the vespers service at the Basilica of St. Peter on July 12 to kick off the Bicentennial celebration in the Columbia Deanery. (Photo provided)