GREENVILLE — The long wait was well worth it. It took six and a half years to get from dream to reality, but everything finally came together on Dec. 15 when St. Anthony of Padua parishioners celebrated the rededication of their renovated, enlarged church-and a joyous celebration it was.
Bishop Robert J. Baker celebrated the Mass of rededication with assistance from Deacon James Williams. Concelebrants were Franciscan Fathers Steven Pavignano, pastor; Dac Tran, parochial vicar; and Paul Williams, former pastor. Deacons Henry Dillard and Winston Wright also participated. All four choirs sang. Knights of Peter Claver Assembly 43, from Atlanta, provided an honor guard.
The bishop began the celebration by blessing the new church doors. When he moved forward to bless the new baptismal font, the choir sang “Wade in the Water.” He then blessed the new lectern, “the table of God’s word.”
Bishop Baker’s homily focused on hope. He explained that the third Sunday of Advent used to be called Gaudete Sunday. The word “gaudete” means “rejoice.” He asked how Christians can rejoice given today’s sluggish economy, terrorism and imminent possibility of war, lack of racial harmony, and recent scandals inside the Catholic Church. He answered that the birth of Jesus, the good news, overshadows the bad news and “turns our hearts to hope and joy.…We have to have hope to have joy.” The bishop asked if racial hatred can ever be overcome. Many are hopeful but not optimistic, but optimism comes from people, while hope comes from God. Hope is based on what God has accomplished. The bishop emphasized the need to bring God back into the scene.
Bishop Baker called hope as a “not-yet virtue.” He added that people are not perfect and admitted that even bishops can fail. He urged the congregation not to give up hope no matter how bad the world seems to be.
After the homily, the cantors lead the congregation in the Litany of African Saints. Father Williams wrote it for the (Franciscan) Holy Name Provincial African American Committee with the imprimatur by the bishop.
Bishop Baker placed bone relics from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton into the altar and blessed it. He spread oil on the surface and rubbed it into the wood signifying that it will never be used for any other purpose.
In closing remarks, Dexter Gourdin, president of the parish council, said “God can make a way when there is no way.” He thanked all the people who pulled together to ensure the success of the project. The architect, parishioner Keith Marrero, donated his services and those of his project managers. Melvin and Dawn Davis, owners of S.C. Frank Chapel of Remembrance, offered their funeral home for Sunday Mass for nearly a year while the church was closed. The Franciscan Sisters offered their convent chapel for daily and Saturday Masses. Robert Chrismer, a parishioner at Holy Cross in Pickens, made all the altar furniture as a gift.
Gourdin commended Father Williams for launching the building program and Father Pavignano for “navigating it to completion.” He concluded by saying, “We have doubled our space, so let’s fill it and keep it full.”
The dream to renovate and enlarge St. Anthony of Padua was a long struggle with a lot of disappointment along the way. An earlier building campaign never got off the ground. Some senior parishioners passed away. The dream resurfaced about two and a half years ago resulting in a second, successful capital campaign. The Diocese of Charleston assisted with financial support and the Catholic Extension Society made a substantial donation.
Father Williams closed the church for construction last winter, and Father Pavignano reopened it this winter. Parishioners worked hard to prepare the church for the first Mass Dec. 8 and worked hard again to prepare for the rededication. Those who passed away were surely rejoicing in heaven.