DANIEL ISLAND—St. Clare of Assisi Parish took a major step forward as ground was broken for its new church on Feb. 23.
Members of the rapidly growing parish currently meet for Mass in the performing arts center at Bishop England High School, but hopefully that will change by early 2022, the anticipated completion date for the worship space. It will be built on a 6.1-acre site at the corner of Seven Farms Drive and Etiwan Park Drive.
St. Clare of Assisi was established by Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone in early 2014, with the first Mass celebrated on Easter Sunday that year. Since then, membership has surged to more than 2,400 people as the Daniel Island and Cainhoy peninsula area continues to experience a population boom. The parish draws members from all over the Charleston area.
Planning for the church has been going on since shortly after the parish formed, according to Father Gregory West, pastor at St. Clare of Assisi.
Those plans have been driven by the work of a Design and Build team, which was established in 2016 and includes Father West and six parishioners who have extensive backgrounds in construction and design.
One of the first things they did was seek input from St. Clare of Assisi’s members. They put up bulletin boards covered with images of different architectural elements for people to view before and after Masses over several weekends. Parishioners were asked to complete a survey on which they liked best. The results revealed a preference for the traditional architecture of Catholic churches.
This did not surprise Father West, who said recent studies nationwide have shown that many Catholics prefer more traditional architecture for their churches.
“People today want something that is transcendent because we live in such a fast cyber world where things are now measured in milliseconds,” he said. “As a result, people want something in a church that feels eternal and that speaks of beauty, transcendence and tradition.”
“As Catholics, we have more than 2,000 years of architectural expression and so much of it is so very beautiful,” Father West continued. “There was a period during the 20th century when a lot of that was put aside or reinvented, and now people want to go back to tradition.”
The team conducted a nationwide search for architects and finally selected Franck and Lohsen of Washington, D.C., a firm that specializes in classical and traditional church projects. Their initial drawings show a classically-inspired building with a towering spire. Father West said the church will be designed to seat about 850 people. Franck and Lohsen are also receiving assistance from Hord Architects out of Memphis, Tenn. The estimated cost is $21 million.
The parish received a divine gift before the first shovel ever broke ground. Initial plans were for the church to have 12 clear windows because stained glass was too expensive.
Then, Father West and the building team learned that the Sisters of St. Francis in Pittsburgh were closing their motherhouse because they no longer had the resources or the membership to keep it open. A developer made plans to turn the site into an independent living home for senior citizens and all liturgical items had to be removed, including 12 stained glass windows that were more than 100 years old and had been designed by the famed Franz Mayer firm in Munich.
Father West and others from the parish traveled to Pittsburgh and made an agreement to purchase the windows. Other items from the motherhouse that will find new life at St. Clare of Assisi include a baptismal font, Stations of the Cross, a high altar called a reredos, the main altar, and statues of St. Clare of Assisi, St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother.
“Those windows are a miracle — we needed 12 windows and they had 12. One of the windows depicts St. Clare of Assisi, and those windows fit the architect’s original plan by mere inches,” Father West said. “The sisters are delighted to know that all of this is going into a brand new church.”
Catherine August is a member of St. Clare of Assisi and an interior designer who runs August Design in Charleston. She said her experience as a member of the planning team has been life-changing for her. She was raised in a traditional Catholic family and said the rich faith she grew up with has made her more determined to make a beautiful, traditional church a reality for her parish.
“This groundbreaking is definitely a huge milestone,” she said. “We are truly blessed to have the many talents that make up our design and build team, and with the good Lord’s will, we will build a beautiful church where we can all come together to worship and give glory to God.”