ROCK HILL — A rapidly growing, new Catholic community has formed in Indian Land, an area of Lancaster County that also is one of the fastest growing regions in the state.
Many Catholic retirees are moving to Sun City Carolina Lakes and other subdivisions popping up along U.S. Highway 521 in the Indian Land area, which is five miles south of the North Carolina border.
Since February, Father John Giuliani, pastor of St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill, and Father Edward McDevitt, parochial vicar, have traveled to Indian Land on Saturdays to celebrate Mass at Belair United Methodist Church.
However, they have already outgrown the space, Father Giuliani said, and planned to meet instead at Indian Land High School on Aug. 16.
Many people who live in Sun City and other developments were driving either 20 miles to St. Matthew Church, a large Catholic parish in the Ballantyne community outside Charlotte, or 15 miles to attend St. Philip Neri.
The natural desire for a church closer to home and this year’s dramatic rise in gas prices prompted interest in having a Catholic presence in Indian Land, Father Giuliani said.
“There are retirees coming into the area from all over — from the Northeast, Midwest, up from Florida — and many of them have children living in the area,” he said. “These are still very active people, because Sun City is for ages 55 and up, and they’re very active parishioners.”
Jack Monaghan, a Sun City resident since 2006, helped organize a Catholic community interest group in late 2007. He and his wife attended St. Philip Neri and discussed the growth in Indian Land with Father Giuliani.
“We were expecting 20 to 30 people and ended up with 70 at the first meeting, and almost to a person they all asked if we could have our own Mass or mission nearby,” Monaghan said. “The second meeting drew more than 140 people.”
Father Giuliani received approval from Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, administrator for the Diocese of Charleston, to celebrate Mass in the Indian Land area. Monaghan said that within a few weeks people volunteered to serve as lectors, ushers, extraordinary ministers and altar servers.
The first Mass was celebrated at the Methodist church on Feb. 9 and drew more than 300 people, Monaghan said. Weekly attendance averages 250.
“It’s really an incredible story that we’ve been able to do all this in this short time frame,” he said.
A new Catholic mission cannot be established in Indian Land until a bishop has been appointed for the diocese, but Father Giuliani and the community’s steering committee are scheduled to meet with Msgr. Laughlin on Sept. 15 to discuss the Indian Land Catholic community and plans for the future.
An anonymous donor gave 12 acres of land to the community, with the requirement that it can only be used to build a place for Catholic worship. The site is 3.8 miles from Sun City, located off S.C. Highway 75.
“It must be a building where we can have Catholic worship, and it must be built within three years or the land will go back to the family,” Father Giuliani said. “And if the site were ever to stop being used for Catholic worship in the future, it would also go back to that family.”
Indian Land is one of several areas around the Diocese of Charleston that have rapidly growing Catholic populations because of the influx of out-of-state retirees and families.
A population explosion in the Lowcountry swelled membership rosters at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, St. Peter Church in Beaufort, and St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head.
Churches along the Grand Strand also have grown in the past decade because of retirees moving to Horry and Georgetown counties, and a new church was built for St. Ann in Santee in 2006 because of a growing number of Catholic retirees there.
The McCormick area, which is served by Good Shepherd Mission, has also seen an influx of retirees who are drawn to the Savannah Lakes retirement community on nearby Lake Thurmond.
The Catholic population will likely continue to increase in Indian Land with the construction of other large communities nearby, such as Legacy Park.
“The growth is going on all around us, like mushrooms popping out of the ground,” Monaghan said. “It’s not far-fetched to say we might be drawing up to 500 people for Mass in the near future.”