SANTEE — The first Mass at the new St. Ann Church was celebrated June 11, a day when temperatures in this resort community near Lake Marion soared into the 90s.
Inside the air was cool and faces were lit with smiles as Bishop Robert J. Baker blessed the new church and spoke to those gathered about the special symbolism of celebrating the first Mass on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.
“By worshiping the Trinity we realize the full truth about ourselves … that is why we build churches and bless them, to solidify our relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” he said.
The day was especially meaningful for Rosemary Jocius, one of the founding members of the parish who, in 2004, purchased and donated the land along State Park Road where the new building is located.
“I’ve waited 23 years for this church,” Jocius said. “I had a hard time keeping myself from crying during the Mass. It’s something I’ve wanted for so many years.”
Jocius and other longtime parishioners have seen the church evolve from Masses held in a rented room at a local Holiday Inn and in a clubhouse at nearby Bradford Village to its most recent home in a building at the Santee Outlet Mall.
After Jocius donated the land, a groundbreaking for the new church was held in July 2005. The building was designed by Charleston-based architect Gary Boehm of Glick/Boehm and Associates, Inc., and constructed by Hawkins and Kolb Construction of Sumter. Like many others who attend St. Ann, Jocius and her husband Albert, now deceased, were retirees drawn to the Santee area because of its location and the warm weather. They were part of an increasing number of Catholics from the Midwest and Northeast who started relocating during the 1970s and ’80s. That influx of Catholics prompted Father Joseph Gorney, who served as parochial vicar at what was then the St. Ann Mission in nearby Holly Hill, to begin celebrating Saturday evening Masses in Santee in 1982.
Father Gorney belonged to the Redemptorist order and had been sent to serve at a chapel in Holly Hill during the 1940s. The Redemptorists ministered to missions in both Holly Hill and Santee until they withdrew in 1995. That year Masses in Santee were suspended but continued in Holly Hill until 2000, when the late Father Scott Buchanan proposed moving St. Ann to Santee. Shortly afterward, severe mold problems forced the church in Holly Hill to close. In 2001, the Santee Catholic Community was established and Masses resumed at the Outlet Mall location. The old church building in Holly Hill is now used as a chapel.
Those years of change and upheaval never dampened the hopes of Jocius and other parishioners who longed for their own church near their homes in Santee.
“I really thought I’d never see this church get built,” Jocius said. “All of us have tried for so many years and prayed for it. This came about because of a very generous group of people who really desired a church of our own in our area.”
Father Thomas Kingsley, administrator for St. Ann since August 2005, said watching the building process has been a spiritual inspiration for him.
“It’s been a great privilege to see the faith of the people here,” he said. “The sacrifices they make really increased my faith. Building a church is more than just the building — you’re also building a community. People in a parish work together and get to know one another.”
Father Kingsley, who is also the administrator at St. Mary – Our Lady of Hope in Summerton and Our Lady of Hope in Manning, has been overseeing the completion of a new church building there. Bishop Baker commented on this during his homily.
“Father Kingsley has presided over the construction of two churches at the same time and has only been a priest three years,” he said. “That must be some kind of record.”
During the Mass, Bishop Baker and Father Kingsley described the efforts of many parishioners who worked to get the new church built. They talked about Jocius’ role as well as the work of Hart Klee, a member of St. Ann who served on the building committee for the new church and the parish council. He has also worked on the building of the new church for the past three years.
Klee said the members were intent on getting a building that could serve multiple purposes but would also be “a church that looked like a church.”
The result exceeded his expectations. He said plans for the property include a columbarium and, as the parish community increases, a larger church. Until then, Klee said, the new building is a welcome place to worship.
“This is what we wanted,” he said. “It feels like a church, and it is a church. To have the Blessed Sacrament there permanently is an awesome feeling.” After the Mass, members of the church posed for pictures and joined together in a reception in the fellowship hall.
Glenn Porter and his wife Erika joined St. Ann after moving to Santee from northern Virginia seven years ago.
“The ceremony was fantastic,” he said. “It was great to see the way God has blessed this parish.”