By PAUL A. BARRA
CHARLESTON — Corpus Christi is the feast day of the parish named after the Blessed Sacrament, just as perpetual adoration of the Eucharist is a natural for that same faith community. Even so, the feast of Corpus Christi 1999 was a special day.
For 15 straight years, 131,496 consecutive hours, the Blessed Sacrament has been exposed in a monstrance in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel of Blessed Sacrament Church on Savannah Highway west of the Ashley River in the greater Charleston area. That’s from Corpus Christi 1984 to 1999. During each of those hours, at least one person was in the chapel paying homage to the body of Christ. On Sunday, June 6, the parish celebrated the anniversary.
“For 15 years, people have been coming and going, 24 hours each day, to our Communion chapel. To have done this for so long is a tribute to many people,” said Father Joseph F. Hanley, pastor of Blessed Sacrament.
One of those people is Louis Verroi, who was the original chair of the Perpetual Adoration Society. No parish in the Diocese of Charleston was engaged in the devotion in 1984 when then-pastor Father St. John E. Patat invited Father Martin Lucia to explain it to the faithful on Savannah Highway.
“Now there are six,” said Verroi, who still keeps the 5 to 6 a.m. shift every Saturday morning. “It’s not tough to do, not like it was in Nebraska, when it snowed and you had to put on (tire) chains before you could get to church. And it’s worth every minute of it. The blessings go out around the world.”
Verroi is not the only charter member of the Perpetual Adoration Society at Blessed Sacrament. Andrea Brooks has not missed a day in 15 years; she comes after work to make the 3 to 4 p.m. hour on Wednesdays. Bill Bohne has been on station praying for people and reflecting almost from the beginning. He took a break when his wife became sick, but not long after she died, he was back on duty.
On Thanksgiving eve in 1996, his car was stolen while he was on his knees for the 8 to 9 p.m. shift.
Normally, though, guarding the Eucharist is a much more rewarding experience.
The practice of uninterrupted vigil and adoration began in contemplative religious communities in 19th century France, especially among the Dominicans and Poor Clares. It is supposed to be “a profoundly effective means of focusing the heart and mind in prayer, with attention fixed on the central mystery of the Eucharistic presence of Christ,” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Father Hanley said that it gives participants the opportunity to grow in faith and love.
“It can’t help but change you,” the priest said.
Charles “Buddy” Sirisky is the current chair of the society and its self-proclaimed “master recruiter.” He said that attrition is high because of infirmity and family and work commitments, but that people from many different area parishes participate and every hour of every day is always scheduled and filled.
Following the ceremony on Corpus Christi Sunday, Sirisky presented a framed perpetual adoration poster dedicated to the late Deacon Farrell “Truck” McCabe to the McCabe family. It pictures a golden monstrance and explains the adoration practice. It will hang in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel in his memory. McCabe was the first deacon at Blessed Sacrament and a charter member of the parish Perpetual Adoration Society.