Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A South Carolina Treasure--A Story of Strong and Courageous Faith.

During the past week I have been with Fr. Marty Bednar preaching a mission at St. Anthony's parish in Walterboro, SC.  In preparing for the mission it was explained to me that there was a mission of the parish comprised largely of African Americans. It is not uncommon in the southern US to find a church or chapel that was once all black by virtue of segregation, but which chose to continue its largely African-American heritage while welcoming all people. We found that, but so much more at the church of St. James the greater in Walterboro.

(Pictured to the left you see the Church, a beautiful Black Madonna and Child, and below, at the end of this article, the interior of the Church.)

It seems that in 1835 three prominent  women of the area converted to Catholicism and brought many of their slaves into the Church with them.  They built a small Church dedicated to St. James the Greater on their land.   The real story begins in 1856 when that Church burned to the ground.  With the civil war soon following the community there was neglected until 1897 when a Fr. Daniel Berberich came across an incredible group of former slaves and their descendants who had kept their Catholic faith alive during that nearly 40 year period in spite of there having been no priest.  Local tradition credits a former slave, Vincent de Paul Davis with preserving the faith in the area.  His descendants and those of other original families still belong to the parish.  The Church was destroyed again by a tornado in 1935 and the present structure was built with many artifacts there from the older buildings. 
      I have commented on this blog at different times on the fact the the living witness of people of faith has shown me what Church really is, especially at times when the goings on in high places lead me to discouragement.  The people of St. James certainly head the list of those experiences. I was privileged to celebrate Mass with them this past Sunday and to join in a small picnic on
Saturday.  Several of them joined us for the mission at St. Anthony's here as well.  This is one more example of the great inspiration I receive as I travel around preaching with the  Franciscan Ministry of the Word.

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