Franciscans receive orders to withdraw from diocese, other mission areas

A statue of St. Francis sits in the gardens at St. Mary of the Angels in Anderson. (File photo)

A group of Franciscan priests who have served in the diocese of Charleston for more than seven decades received word recently that they are being withdrawn by their order.

The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province announced on Jan. 3 that they are withdrawing from St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville and St. Mary of the Angels in Anderson.

The announcement came from the provincial offices in New York City, which cited the challenges of a declining population of friars as the main reason for the decision to withdraw from the Upstate, along with seven other mission sites around the country.

The Friars have been at St. Mary of the Angels for 77 years and at St. Anthony of Padua for 81 years.

“Our departure from the parishes of St. Mary of the Angels and St. Anthony of Padua, as well as the other seven Fraternities-in-Mission, inevitably will bring disappointment and sadness — which are natural emotions because of the more than three quarters of a century of association between the Franciscans and generations of families in the Anderson and Greenville communities,” said Franciscan Father Kevin Mullen, provincial minister for the Holy Name Province. “The decision to withdraw from these parishes was not taken lightly.”

The decision came after a two-year initiative that involved friars, local dioceses and lay partners, who looked at the sustainability of the Friars’ missions around the country. It boiled down to a question of numbers: 35 years ago there were 708 friars serving in the U.S., but now there are less than 300, according to the provincial statement.

Currently Franciscan Father Patrick Tuttle serves as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, and Franciscan Father David Phan is parochial vicar there. Father Phan is also the current vicar for Vietnamese ministry in the diocese. It is possible that Father Phan will remain in Greenville.

Franciscan Father Michael P. Jones is the current pastor of St. Mary of the Angels, where Franciscan Father Christopher J. Dunn serves as parochial vicar.

The Franciscans will remain in service at only one location in the Upstate for the time being: St. Andrew Church in Clemson. Franciscan Father Dan McLellan is pastor of the growing parish there, and Franciscan Father Bob Menard serves the parish and handles campus ministry for Clemson University, as well as Southern Wesleyan University in Central and Tri-County Technical College.

A statement from the Catholic Diocese of Charleston released on Jan. 6 expressed sadness at the announcement, and also gratitude for the Franciscans’ long history of ministry in the state.

“The Franciscan friars have played a vital role in evangelizing and ministering to the Catholic faithful in the Upstate, specifically the African American and Hispanic Catholic communities,” the statement said. “They will be missed, but their ministry will continue.”

According to the statement, the diocese will start making appropriate plans to assume both ministerial and administrative duties at the two parishes later this year.

The Miscellany will continue to cover this story as it develops.