Christmas Letter

Letter to St. Mary’s at Christmas

Dear People of Saint Mary’s Church,

Anniversaries are always a time to take stock, and in A.D. 2002, we will celebrate a particularly important anniversary: we will be 150 years old. In the century and a half since the founding of this parish dedicated to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, some extraordinary things have been accomplished here.

In the first fifty years of the parish’s life, a small church was built at the original campus on Hampton Avenue two blocks west of our present location, a resident pastor moved to Greenville, the present campus was obtained, and the first permanent church was constructed. In the second fifty years, the first half of the present church was built, the present rectory was constructed, the school was opened, the first school building was erected, and the old convent (on the site of the present church office) was acquired. And in the third fifty years, the human growth and physical development of the parish exploded. The church was doubled in size, the second school building was erected, and the new convent—now the church office—was constructed. In the past seven years alone we have seen the rise of Sacred Heart Hall, the Monsignor Baum Recreational Center, the Jamile J. Francis Athletic Field, and the new parking lot and handicapped access ramp.

We are now embarking on the fourth fifty year span of our parish’s history, and this is the time to make plans for the present and future needs of St. Mary’s-plans which are both realistic and yet bold and far sighted. As with our forebears in this parish family, we cannot afford to make small plans, and I believe that we have the opportunity to craft a plan for our development which will ensure that St. Mary’s place as the mother church of Catholicism in upstate South Carolina is not simply a matter of history. We are in the midst of great growth of our human community, and we must respond by expanding the facilities of our campus to give adequate care to all who will call St. Mary’s their spiritual home.

Five years ago, St. Mary’s Church embraced 1,200 families; today we have 2,000 households. Five years ago, St. Mary’s School had 300 students; today we have 350 children in school. Our present church has a maximum seating capacity of 450, but on the average weekend 2,700 people attend Mass here. And in the next fifteen years, the population of Greenville County is expected to rise from 380,000 to 450,000-a jump which will mean at least another 2,000 Catholics in our neighborhood. And these figures do not include the exponential increase we anticipate in the Hispanic population. Clearly, the time is at hand to plan for the future of St. Mary’s.

After consultation with our Pastoral and Finance Councils and extensive study of our recently concluded Strategic Planning Process and the report it generated, I am convinced that we require a 15 Year Master Plan to be executed in Three Phases. I write to you now to describe those three phases in the most general way and to ask for your financial support for the immediate tasks at hand.

Phase One

Our beautiful church shows the effects of age and constant use and is badly in need of expensive physical improvements—both visible and invisible. We need to install new heating and air conditioning, paint the entire interior and exterior, replace the 1980’s canister lights with beautiful Gothic hanging lamps, refinish the pews, and replace the carpet and vinyl tile with a floor equal in beauty to our windows and other architectural details. Finally, we are presently inspecting the roof and the bell tower and expect that repair work of some degree will be required there. All of this work will cost approximately one million dollars.

We presently have a debt of about $965,000, the remainder of the monies required to complete our last three major projects, and the service of this debt costs the parish nearly $15,000 each month. Moreover, to complete the acquisition of the land on the corner of Washington and Butler Streets we need to raise $450,000. And finally, we need to raise money now with a view towards the acquisition of the remaining real estate in our block to provide for the new buildings in Phase Two of the Master Plan.

To accomplish all of these goals, I am launching this Christmas a Fund Drive for the Future of St. Mary’s, and early in the New Year you will receive detailed information on this Fund Drive. During 2002, we need to raise 2.2 million dollars, and I am asking every family in this parish to assist with sacrificial giving for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

If you do the math on all the projects above, you will notice that even 2.2 million dollars doesn’t cover our expenses. I am pleased to report that St. Mary’s received $480,000 from the charitable trust of Donald J. Barhyte and that Donald’s daughter, Leslie, has graciously agreed that her father’s bequest can be used in Phase One to pay for our new heating and air conditioning system. We are all indebted to the generosity of Don Barhyte, and we are grateful for his devotion to St. Mary’s Church.

As I have announced at Mass, the church will close on Monday 7 January so that we can begin the work described above. We will complete all of the work as quickly as possible, and the more quickly we raise money, the more quickly we return to our beloved church! When the information about the Fund Drive arrives in your mail box, please respond generously to our need for long-term support for this essential work. Enclosed with this letter please find an envelope for a special collection at all Christmas Masses. Our Fund Drive for the Future of St. Mary’s begins this Christmas, and I ask you to be as generous as you can in this collection. All contributions to our special Christmas collection will be used for the projects of Phase One.

Phase Two

Even though restoring our present church is a task which cannot be postponed, such work does not address our most pressing problem: our church building is much too small for our human community. One hundred years ago Monsignor Gwynn pioneered a beautiful Gothic church for St. Mary’s, and fifty years ago Monsignor Baum doubled that building in size. In 1956 when the expanded church was dedicated, St. Mary’s embraced 300 families; today we have over 2,000 households and are growing fast. It now falls to us to do what three previous generations have done here-build a church!

By acquiring all of the land on our end of the block between Washington Street and Hampton Avenue we can make possible what was not possible before: the construction of a physical church large enough to accommodate our human church. I have already discussed our situation with architects and church planning consultants, and the experts tell me that we need a building with at least 1400 or 1500 seats to be home for this family. We presently have 450 seats.

But we don’t need just a large auditorium; we need a church equal in beauty and graceful detail to our present church. To construct a truly beautiful and authentically Catholic church from quality materials and adorn it with the work of artists and craftsman (as was done here twice before) will require extraordinary effort and sacrificial giving from every family St. Mary’s. I am confident that when we begin Phase Two we will find such support in this community and be able to give to future generations a noble place of sacred worship worthy of the sacred Mysteries of eternal redemption which are celebrated within a building of stone and glass and wood.

And please note here: building a large new church in no way means that we abandon the present building. In fact, our restored old church will continue to receive constant use: weddings, funerals, and weekday Masses would regularly be celebrated in what would become our chapel—the perfect setting for more intimate gatherings than a 1500 seat church permits.

Phase Three

The primary apostolate of St. Mary’s Church is St. Mary’s School. Our school is the principal way in which we fulfill the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus to proclaim the Gospel to all people, and the school rightly becomes a focus of the entire parish—not just of the parishioners with children enrolled in school. It is well known that every year there are more applications for admission to our school than there are spaces available, and we have a waiting list for most of our grades. Put simply: we need more space. Moreover, our existing facilities—most especially the middle school building—require much needed improvements. Phase Three of the Master Plan would address these needs by adding new buildings and making the appropriate changes to existing structures.

Given that we need more space in our school today, many people wonder why this work should come last. The answer to this question is two-fold. First, it is the church which supports the school, not vice versa. Insuring the welfare of the church is the best means we have of keeping the school strong, and the church is strained to the breaking point today by the rapid expansion of the number of people who come to Mass here—fewer than 8% of whom have children in the school. Building a new church is essential to the health of the church, and the church is the life of the school. Second, although our Catholic schools are “owned and operated” by their sponsoring parishes, no parish can make responsible plans for its school without considering the needs and plans of its neighbors. By order of Bishop Baker, all of the churches in the twelve counties of the Piedmont Deanery are presently engaged in planning process which will allow the parishes of each city to cooperate in providing Catholic education to all the children in the area. Until this process is complete, no parish on its own can undertake an expansion of the facilities or programs of its school.

The Human Factor

A parish is not a physical place or a building; a parish is a human community-a portion of the People of God, a house built of living stones. Human beings require buildings in which to pray, and study, and play, and so we must attend now to our need for new and larger facilities. But the only reason for a parish to construct and maintain buildings is to provide a home for the Christian family which is the church.

Despite the great needs we have for our campus, my first priority as pastor is not raising money and raising buildings, it is helping to form a Christian community of disciples on fire with the Gospel and dedicated to serving each other and the people of our city because of the love of God. The formation of such a community is accomplished by many means: celebrating the sacraments of the New Covenant-most especially the Holy Eucharist; teaching the Gospel to people of all ages; organizing groups within the parish for studying, service, and fellowship; identifying opportunities for Christian service for every member of the parish, etc.

Realizing the full potential of this parish family for vibrant Christian discipleship is not something Father Huffman and I can do alone. In 1901, St. Mary’s had 100 members and two priests; in 2001, St. Mary’s has 5,600 members and two priests. Obviously, the way in which the parish priests exercise their ministry has to change in the face of such extraordinary growth. We will need in the near future to expand our parish staff to serve our large and growing family, and the most important addition will be a qualified lay leader to direct evangelization and discipleship programs of every sort. As quickly as the budget allows, I will respond to the desire for more and better service from the parish staff and more creative ways of embracing as many as people as possible in the work of discipleship.

A key component in expanding our services is expanding our budget by increasing the weekly offering. On average, 50% of our registered households give less than $1 each week to the parish. In other words, half of the families who call St. Mary’s their spiritual home contribute less than four dollars each month to support all of the work needed to maintain this church. I ask that all of you prayerfully consider your regular patterns of giving, not because we have bills to pay but because a Christian has a need to give which comes from following the Lord Jesus. During this Christmastide, let us be mindful of the cost of discipleship. God the Father gave us everything in giving us His Son, and God the Son gave everything in giving His life for us; what are we prepared to give in return?

Father Jay Scott Newman, J.C.L.