BEAUFORT – St. Peter Church took a historic step forward with the consecration of a new building April 29.
The new worship space is especially welcome because the parish, like others in the Beaufort area, has experienced phenomenal growth in the past decade, said May Inglis, communications director for the parish.
The parish previously used a building dedicated on Christmas Eve of 1987. At that time St. Peter Church had about 572 registered families and about 1,000 individual members. As of May 2006, the parish has about 1,500 families with almost 4,000 individual members registered.
Planning for the new building formally started in 2001, construction began in August 2004.
“The response has been very enthusiastic – people are just so happy to have this new place,” Inglis said.
She said one of the most noticeable and important advantages of the new church is the fact that more people will be able to attend the 8 and 10 a.m. Masses on Sundays.
“The turnout is so big and you now can just feel the sense of community of St. Peter,” she said. The church also offers a weekly Spanish language Mass at 1 p.m.
The consecration Mass, which lasted more than three hours, included the anointing of the altar and walls with holy oil and placing blessed relics of saints inside the altar itself.
“The consecration was just a beautiful, traditional event,” Inglis said.
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St. Peter Church turned to Rob Montgomery of the Montgomery Architecture and Planning Firm to design its new worship space. The building contractor was Gulfstream Corporation. To date, the parish has raised $7.5 million in its campaign efforts, according to Inglis.
St. Peter Church and other Beaufort area parishes can trace the history of Catholic worship in the area back to 1566, when Spanish settlers at what was then Fort San Felipe offered Mass. Father Ronald Cellini, the pastor, documented in a history of Beaufort that 1566 is considered the year of the first Catholic Mass in the Carolinas.
The first church building for St. Peter Church was built in 1846 by Michael O’Connor, an immigrant from Cork, Ireland. The parish’s extensive heritage is reflected in its current membership.
Father Cellini noted in his history that a brick wall around the first church building, which still stands, was erected in 1857 with local material by Franklin Talbird, who was great-grandfather of three current parishioners. Many family names of 19th century members are still found on the St. Peter Church rosters today.
In the early years of the parish, Sunday Masses were offered by mission priests who arrived by train on Saturday and then offered Mass at different sites in Beaufort on Sundays.
As the parish continued to grow, it was evident that a new church was needed. The parish purchased property on nearby Lady’s Island in 1985, and built a church with a seating capacity of about 450. The formal dedication was held on Christmas Eve in 1987.
The original 1846 church building is now used as a chapel of Perpetual Adoration and still stands on Carteret Street in Beaufort.
The parish is also home to St. Peter School, located on Lady’s Island Drive, which was established in 1991 and moved into its school building in 1996.
“The journey to this glorious day began in 1566 … We ask God this day to bless the continuation of this tradition of faith and bless our efforts to see the spread of the Holy Gospel just as our Spanish predecessors did in 1566,” Father Cellini wrote in the history that was distributed to those who attended the consecration.
For more information about the new St. Peter Church and its history visit www.stpeters-church.org.