CLEMSON—Parishioners at St. Andrew Church are introducing fellow worshippers to plans for a long-awaited new church and social hall on the site of their current building, not far from the Clemson University campus.
Parish leaders have been meeting with small groups of church members to talk about the master plan, including the timeframe for completion of the new church and how to cover its estimated $6.5 million price tag.
In general, the plan calls for demolishing the current structures and building a new, larger church plus a separate facility for parish functions. The 83-year-old chapel, the first Catholic Church in Pickens County, will remain on the property, according to the master plan, which was prepared by McMillan Pazdan Smith Architects of Greenville.
In a letter to the parish, Franciscan Father Dan McLellan, pastor, said the parish considered building on a new site on Clemson’s outskirts, but instead took the “bold step of choosing to grow in the shadow of the chapel.”
“We have intentionally chosen to remain close-in to the university campus and to Clemson’s downtown,” Father McLellan said.
Bishop Emmett Walsh consecrated the 85-seat chapel in 1935, drawing around 30 people to the event and prompting the bishop to say, “Perhaps we have overbuilt,” Father McLellan recalled. In that first year, 10 Clemson College cadets worshipped at the new church. Five years later, parish rolls had grown to 52 cadets and approximately 130 area Catholics.
Shortly thereafter, the diocese invited the Paulist Fathers to staff the parish. It grew from a mission of St. Joseph Church in Anderson to serve people in Pickens and Oconee counties. The parish built the current, 285-seat structure, plus a social and religious education hall behind the chapel in 1979. The Paulists left St. Andrew in the mid-90s and were replaced by diocesan priests until 2012, when the Franciscans took over.
Over the past 15 years, the population growth in the city of Clemson, combined with a significant increase in campus enrollment, led to the installation of a video system in the main church, with seating in the parish hall so live feeds can be provided to overflow crowds at Sunday Masses. Talk of building a larger worship space began.
“In 1935, Clemson’s total enrollment was 1,500,” said Michael Murphy, a parishioner and chair of the church’s capital campaign. “Today, enrollment is 25,000.”
Those 130 faithful who attended Mass at the chapel in 1940 have grown to 650 registered families today, a number that doesn’t include the roughly 80 members of the Catholic Student Association, nor the unregistered students who attend Mass each week.
“It’s really unusual to have the number of college students we have attending Mass here every week,” Murphy said “Normally, you’re losing that group.”
A consultant with experience in large building projects, Murphy, who moved to Clemson six years ago with his wife Diane, said he met with Father McLellan shortly after the move. They, and others, talked about creating a master plan for a bigger church, one that would seat around 500 worshippers, plus provide adequate space for religious education for children and adults, a larger social hall, and other improvements.
Both the chapel and the current church are designed to bring people together, Murphy said.
With that vision in place, parish leaders have fashioned a plan that enhances that connection. It calls for an outdoor plaza between the church and parish center, with benches and inviting landscaping, Murphy said, all of it anchored by a statue of St. Andrew.
Since the existing church and social hall would be demolished to make room for the new buildings, Murphy said Mass will be held off-site at a location to be determined later. The building currently housing the Catholic Student Association will also be demolished.
The parish has already completed certain projects in the plan, including purchasing and renovating several properties adjacent to the church, which are currently used for religious education and other parish functions. They have also received approval of the new site master plan from the city of Clemson.
A proposed timeline calls for construction of the church starting in the spring of 2020, with completion in the spring of 2021, Murphy said.
Top image provided: An artist rendering shows the exterior of the planned church at St. Andrew in Clemson.