St. Andrew in Clemson breaks ground for new church

CLEMSON—Shortly before turning a spade of dirt to mark the start of construction on their church building, Father Dan McLellan, pastor at St. Andrew, took a last look at the old church, now gutted and scheduled for demolition in a few weeks.

“God has been good to us in that place,” he said.

With a large excavator perched behind them and St. Andrew parishioners cheering them on, Father McLellan, Father Bob Menard, leaders of the capital campaign and others, broke ground Oct. 20 on a new $4.5 million church.

The heavy equipment will be used in demolishing the old church and a small, red brick house adjacent to it. The house has served as  home to Catholic students from Clemson University and other area schools.

According to site plans prepared by McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, a portion of the new church will be built atop the footprints of the old church and student center.

Father McLellan said part of the $4.5 million will be applied to site preparation for the new church and a future parish center. The two buildings will be linked via a covered breezeway and an outdoor plaza.

Fundraising is currently underway for construction of the $1.7 million parish center, Father McLellan said.

Following an opening hymn, prayer and a scripture reading, Father McLellan praised the faithful for their patience and perseverance to conclude an effort that started more than 10 years ago.

“We’ve looked forward to this day for many, many, many years,” Father McLellan said. “There have been fits and starts, and I suspect some of you are here to finally verify, by your own witness, that we are building a new church.”

While acknowledging that a new church building is needed in the practical sense to address the needs of a growing parish, it also “reflects who we are, and what we are about as a people of faith,” he said, “to live our lives, as Pope Francis put it, with a flavor of the Gospels. It’s a mission to our families, to our neighbors, to our classmates, to our co-workers, so that the flavor of our lives will whet their appetites for the same flavor in their lives.”

Father McLellan thanked parishioners for their generosity, both spiritually and monetarily. 

“Though we are a people of modest wealth, more so are we a people of extraordinary sacrificial generosity,” he said, “and sacrificial generosity is what Heaven is for.”

For longtime parishioners, the groundbreaking brought tears of joy, but also some of sadness.

Edie Smoak said she first celebrated Mass in Clemson in the winter of 1976 in the parish chapel, which will remain after the new construction is complete. She also took photos inside the old church of fellow parishioners as they carried home the oak pews from which they celebrated Mass many Sunday mornings.

Watching the groundbreaking, Smoak said, “there were years when I didn’t think this was going to happen, at least not in my lifetime.”

She said she’ll probably return to witness the demolition of the old church.

Kathy Weichel, another parishioner, said it doesn’t seem that long ago that the old church was the new one.

“It’s a lot more exciting to see the groundbreaking than to see the demolishing,” she said. “I don’t want to see that. But it’s exciting to think we’re going to be building another church.”

Still, the memories of the old church will live on, at least for a few months, thanks in part to the efforts of parish secretary, Nancy Leininger. 

Leininger said she is collecting trivia related to the now empty building, with one to be published each week in the bulletin.

The first trivia question will be to name the first couple married in the then-new church, Leininger said. She declined to reveal the couple’s names until the bulletin was published, though she confirmed both are still St. Andrew parishioners.

The new church will seat up to 350 worshippers, compared with 225 in the previous building. To accommodate more people, the parish installed a video system in the old church several years ago and set up folding chairs in the basement for live feeds via a television monitor. 

Construction on the new building will take roughly a year, Father McLellan said. Until it’s completed, Sunday morning Mass will be  celebrated at Clemson University’s Madren Center. Saturday afternoon Mass will resume once the new church is complete.