By PAUL A. BARRA
SUMMERVILLE — Parishioners and friends of St. Theresa the Little Flower dedicated a spectacular new church on Sunday July 23. The occasion was an afternoon of high emotion and beauty.
Some of the emotion was precipitated by the pastor of St. Theresa, Msgr. Edward D. Lofton, when he spoke about building the new worship space as a dream come true: “You called me into service here and that has been my great joy.” The crowd, numbering nearly 1,000 souls, rose in spontaneous, thunderous applause for the priest.
Another priest, this one deceased, was the focus of outpourings of love as well. The centerpiece of the new sanctuary is a massive Venetian glass mosaic created by artist Charles L. Madden and crafted in Italy; called “The Millennium Christ,” the huge icon was donated by the family of the late Father David J. Schiller, the first official pastor of St. Theresa (1988-97).
Rose Bell of St. George United Methodist Church called the image “magnificent.” Bell was one of the visitors to the dedication ceremony, some of whom sang in a combined choir. Voices from St. John the Beloved, St. George UMC and St. Theresa were augmented by members of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. The musical selections, either composed or arranged by host director of music Jonathan C. Davis, filled the large worship space; Bishop Robert J. Baker called the music “a mighty sound.” It visibly moved the worshipers.
Many were moved also by a visit to a site in front of the Spanish mission-style church that fronts a small lake on the 23-acre parish campus. The remains of Father Schiller were interred at that place the day before the dedication, according to Msgr. Lofton, “in a quiet ceremony, just as he would have wanted it.”
Bishop Baker spoke of a church as “a meeting place between God and his people, a visible reminder of God’s presence.” He said to the faithful of Summerville: “This is God’s new home on earth and your home as well.”
The bishop preached on the theme of hospitality, relating the readings for the Mass, especially the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, to the dedication event.
“This new St. Theresa the Little Flower Catholic Church is a sign of the hospitality of God and the hospitality of his church,” Bishop Baker said.
A bell tower is located near the entrance to the church. Its bell was donated by Edward Finucan and was rung to begin the ceremonies by three of his daughters. Sixteen priests of the Diocese of Charleston came to the dedication Mass to celebrate along with Bishop Baker and Msgr. Lofton. More than 40 Knights of Columbus, dozens in Fourth Degree regalia, kept things orderly and symbolically protected both the celebrants and the Eucharist. Key parishioners, Sister Mary LeQuier, Sister Carol Dulka, Joe McGlynn and Michael Porter carried lighted candles to wall sconces that had been anointed with oil by the bishop of Charleston and three area priests. Four permanent deacons dressed the anointed and incensed altar.
One of those was Deacon Thomas B. Elliot, who assisted the bishop during the ceremony and proclaimed the Gospel. He said that the new church seats more than 700 in pews, with additional seating in cry rooms and choir loft, and was designed to expand to another 470 seats as needed. The additional seats will probably be needed soon: The parish has grown from 420 families in 1999 to more than 750 families today.