By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
MOUNT PLEASANT — It was a time for congratulations this past Sunday, as the East Cooper Catholic Community celebrated its one year anniversary with a special Mass celebrated by retired Bishop David B. Thompson, “our founding father,” as he was called by Father Paul A. Brenninkmeijer, pastor.
While daily liturgies are held at parishioner’s homes five times a week, the Sunday Mass is celebrated at Charles Pinckney Elementary School in Park West, after having moved from Dunes West earlier in the spring.
The church began last September by originally celebrating Mass at Thomas Lynch Hall in the Dunes West subdivision. Parishioners, now numbering 160 families, came primarily from the overcrowded Christ Our King and Stella Maris communities, but also from Daniel Island as well.
The new meeting place is closer to the parish offices in Awendaw, a mobile home which also serves as Father Paul’s residence.
The church territory extends along Highway 17 North from the Brickyard subdivision to the Charleston County border at Georgetown. From the east and west it is bounded by the Intracoastal Waterway and the Wando River.
Nineteen ministries have been undertaken by the Mount Pleasant parishioners, including one in which they are national trailblazers.
The Family Intergenerational Religious Education (F.I.R.E.) program has been initiated in the church as the primary sacramental preparation program. F.I.R.E. teaches within small communities of five or six households. The process is a creative, nonclassroom way to bridge the gap between going to church and living one’s faith. It emphasizes the exploration of Scripture, discussion, play and prayer.
F.I.R.E. groups are responsible for education of young parishioners in preparing them for reconciliation, first Communion, and confirmation. The East Cooper Community is the first parish in the country to make this program its primary means of religious instruction.
The curriculum was written by Kathleen O’Connell Chesto. A national consultant on family spirituality and religious education, Chesto spoke in June at the diocese’s second annual retreat for directors of religious education and youth ministers.
At the anniversary Mass this past Sunday, the many firsts to take place within the community over the past year were remembered.
Maria McTighe and Vicky Sperano were brought into full communion with the church at the Easter Vigil, and 10 children were baptized during the year.
Thirteen first Communicants and two confirmands came from the community, and seven candidates are seeking to explore the faith more deeply by taking part in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program in preparation for next year’s Easter Vigil.
In addition, Michael and Meredith Hickerson were married in the parish this year as well. On a sad note, however, four parishioners have also died.
“We may be a small band, but in the Spirit we are strong. The Spirit is blowing mightily among us, calling us ever forward and upward in our commitment to God and to each other on our journey together,” stated Father Paul in the anniversary bulletin. “For this and for so much besides we give heartfelt thanks and praise to the Lord who provides it all.”
In his remarks prior to the liturgy, Father Paul called the past 12 months, “a year of blessing, gratitude, and thanksgiving.”
Bishop Thompson, in his homily at the Mass, recounted how he first met Father Paul a few years ago in Washington, D.C. They were introduced by Father Francis Kline, abbot of Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner.
“We quickly became friends, and I knew he would be the perfect priest to lead this Catholic community,” said the bishop. “He has certainly justified my faith in him.”
Father Paul then received a standing ovation from the packed congregation in the school meeting room.
Before the conclusion of the celebration, Father Paul recalled how one of Bishop Thompson’s last acts as ordinary was the creation of the East Cooper Catholic Community.
“We trusted in his inspirational leadership,” said Father Paul. “We are strong, and we will do great things in the spirit of those who lead us.”
Bishop Thompson was then given a gift in commemoration of 50 years of religious life, which was observed by the bishop this past May.
“I’m grateful to God for being a priest. God has blessed me with many things,” Bishop Thompson said.
A brunch was then held immediately following the Mass to celebrate the two special occasions.