2020: A year like no other

Masks and social distancing were the rule even at Mass, as Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrates the liturgy. (Miscellany archives)

This year was full of immense challenges for South Carolina Catholics and their way of life, thanks to a submicroscopic particle.

It was a year of stops and starts in the Church, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the diocese to close churches and schools and postpone or make adjustment to important rites and events. 


Despite the strictures on business as usual, churches in the diocese continued to mark important events.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone rededicated the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist after renovations were completed. The Cathedral was transformed into a color-rich sacred space with heavenly ceilings and glorious art. There was also cause for celebration when St. Clare of Assisi on Daniel Island broke ground for a majestic new church, and St. James in Conway marked 75 years. A new documentary on Catholic Hill revealed a unique journey of faith taken by Black Catholics.

Three new faith communities were established to meet the needs of the growing population, with a mission established in Cane Bay near Summerville, a new community formed in Carolina Forest, and a Byzantine rite mission established in Summerville.

Upstate parishes experienced a great loss when the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province announced that they were withdrawing from St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville and St. Mary of the Angels in Anderson.

In March, as all church doors were closed temporarily to prevent people from being infected by the coronavirus, a dispensation was given to Catholics since they could not receive Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Reconciliation also stopped for a while. Masses were streamed online for a few months, but some sacraments had to be postponed. The RCIA candidates scheduled to come into the Church in March were deferred until May. Though disappointed at Easter, 442 people were elated at Pentecost. 

The Mass of Oils, which usually brings a majority of the priests together, had to take place online thanks to health protocols, but they affirmed their promises nonetheless. Bishop Guglielmone resumed public Masses on May 11, and, thankfully, Catholic bishops across the country consecrated their dioceses to the protection of Mary. Guadalupe feast day celebrations were scaled back, but devotees honored Our Lady in their homes.


The pro-life events at the forefront in the diocese were the rally for life, vigils at abortion centers, Catholic support of the heartbeat bill, Dreamers holding candlelight vigils as they prayed for immigration reform, and parishes such as St. Philip Neri in Rock Hill and Prince of Peace in Taylors working to educate people about human trafficking.


Catholic Charities launched a new stress management ministry called Sister Hope, designed to offer comfort through computers or phones. The outreach served the homeless and opened mobile showers and continued with food pantries, as did other regional Catholic entities. Another charitable institution, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, marked 175 years of localized help to people in need.


The topic of racial injustice was brought to the forefront as people protested across the state. The bishop spoke out, urging everyone to pray for empathy, justice and peace.

Black Catholics spoke out, saying the Church needed more than ever to combat racism and injustice. To that end, Catholics in Columbia joined other faiths at a peace walk for equality in June.


On Dec. 30, Bishop Guglielmone turned 75 and, according to Canon Law, submitted his resignation to the pope. No successor has been appointed at this time.

Several other priests also marked major milestones: Fathers Michael Cellars and William Frei were ordained to the priesthood; Msgr. Charles Rowland and Father Robert Galinac marked 50th jubilees; Father Francisco Cruz Velosa retired; and Fathers Ed Fitzgerald, Gary Linsky and Wilbroad Mwape celebrated the 25th anniversary of their ordinations.

The diocese as a whole mourned the losses of Father Peter Clarke, Father Marcin Zahuta, Father Michel Mukad, Father Terence Fleming, and Trappist Father Richard McGuire.


The seminarians were called back from their studies to hunker down in a house of formation, but they made their presence felt by helping out wherever they could. They even made a Marian pilgrimage to the shrine in Kingstree. Seminarian Rafael Ghattas became a transitional deacon.


A new community of religious women from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Christ, based in Mexico, were welcomed to the state. They went to work in the Aiken Deanery thanks to a grant from Catholic Extension.

The tireless Franciscan Sister Margie Hosch retired after 66 years, Sister Roberta Fulton returned to her Motherhouse, and Sister Agnes Marie Winter celebrated her 50th jubilee as a Sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Greenville native Sister Virginia Joy Cotter professed perpetual vows with the Sisters of Life in Suffern, N.Y. And the South Carolina Conference of Catholic Women named Sister Gertrude Bassey, of the Sisters for Christian Community, religious woman of the year.


The Bicentennial celebrations had to be postponed, so a special Bicentennial Mass was held and bishops of the province of the Archdiocese of Atlanta attended. Sister Pam Smith, a sister of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, wrote furiously all year and produced a comprehensive book titled “A History of the Diocese of Charleston: State of Grace.”


Education and Catholic schools were much in the news of the diocese. The pandemic financial toll resulted in some schools requiring emergency funding. 

Two schools were restructured: St. Paul the Apostle in Spartanburg and St. Martin de Porres in Columbia. Changes were planned for others, including St. Michael in Murrells Inlet and Holy Trinity in North Myrtle Beach. They will discontinue serving most middle school grades, but students may  attend St. Andrew or the newly developed middle school at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

The class of 2020 was able to hold graduation outdoors. At the ceremonies at the respective schools, Bishop Guglielmone told Gen Z to ask themselves what God requests of them and to remember the words of the prophet Micah: Act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton graduated its first class, while St. Michael promoted its final group of eighth-graders. Students returned to in-person learning after parents and teachers alike had labored to keep their education seamless by studying at home and online.