SENECA – Fond memories, tears and laughter abounded as approximately 800 people gathered at St. Paul the Apostle Mission to bid farewell to the Paulist Fathers.
The Paulists, based in New York, are downsizing their ministry and leaving in June after having served the Upstate area for nearly 66 years.
Parishioners and Paulist priests – both present and past – reunited to celebrate relationships developed over the years during the April 30 event at St. Paul.
The diocese will make the official announcement of which priests will be assigned to serve the parishes and campus ministry at a later date.
Paulist Father Bernard Campbell, pastor of St. Paul, St. Francis in Walhalla and St. Andrew in Clemson and director of the Catholic Student Center in Clemson, said it was going to be difficult to leave.
“There’s a lot of sadness and a sense of ‘We have done a very good job and the people are ready,'” he said. “This is the time for us to go.
“I think we’re a much more integrated community,” he added. “The three churches are separate but they work together. It’s tough over this geographical distance.”
One of the changes in the area has been a tremendous increase in the number of Hispanic parishioners, especially at St. Andrew in Walhalla, Father Campbell said. Church members have been working on addressing the needs of the Hispanic parishioners, he said.
People from the three parishes were emotional because they said it was difficult to say goodbye.
Karen Humphries said the Paulists are responsible for her becoming Catholic. Paulist Father Rich Colgan reached out to Humphries in 1982, and a year later, she joined the church.
“‘Heartsick’ would be the best way to describe it,” she said of the farewell. “They’ve been such an integral part of our lives.”
The parishioners and the Paulist Fathers gathered in the church for a goodbye celebration that was tearful and ended with the singing of the traditional Irish blessing, “May the Road Rise to Meet You.”
“This must be an auspicious occasion,” Howard “Pat” Wilcox, master of ceremonies, told the crowd. “The turnout today speaks volumes about the Paulists and how you feel about their tenure here.”
The Paulists are known for their evangelization and campus ministry efforts, and that was the focus of the speakers.
Rev. Jim Richardson, pastor of Fort Hill Presbyterian Church, said he has been a friend with the Paulists since he arrived at Fort Hill in 1980.
“I like me best when I’m around the Paulist Fathers,” he said. “I know this is a celebration. For me, it is a very sad time. The men who are standing around here have made me a better Christian pastor.”
Father Steve Bossi talked fondly about his time spent as campus minister at Clemson in the mid- to late-80s.
Bossi said the Clemson students always had a wonderful spirit, and the parishes always did a great job supporting the students to keep them committed to their faith.
The churches had – and still have – many programs to help students feel welcome, he said.
“It’s a wonderful way to say we’re glad you’re here,” he said. “I’m choking up because it was such a wonderful experience for me here.”