Some wonderful news about my friend Father Gregory West and his growing flock in South Carolina:
In a modest two-room office tucked away in a Daniel Island shopping plaza lie the makings of something tremendous.
No ornate decorations or grandeur, just the buzz and bang of construction work in harmony with the ring of the phone echoing through the office. While it may be hard to tell, years of prayer and hopes are just days from coming to life. A longtime dream of a Catholic parish on Daniel Island will finally become a reality on Easter Sunday as St. Clare of Assisi celebrates its first official mass and is canonically established as the parish of Daniel Island.
At the forefront of the debut is the Rev. Gregory West. Born and raised in the Charleston area, West spent the last 20 years spreading his ministry around the state before returning home a month ago to deliver a Catholic parish to Daniel Island. With no physical church, West has set up in the office space and Bishop England High School to lay the groundwork for the parish. St. Clare of Assisi will be the third Catholic parish West has established in South Carolina since 1995. “Right now, we’re building the infrastructure,” West said. “We’re organizing the skeleton of what it means to run a church.”
West says the Catholic Diocese of Charleston has been interested in creating a parish on Daniel Island since Bishop England relocated there in 1998. Bishop of Charleston Robert Guglielmone has been eager to begin the past couple of years, but the Diocese had to wait until it could secure priest personnel and until Daniel Island had the population to justify the parish.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we can devote a lot of our energy, particularly priest personnel, to what’s happening here,” West said. “There are great growth plans here. It’s really picking up steam. Now is the perfect time to get going.” For the past four weeks, West and St. Clare have used Bishop England’s performing arts center to hold Mass. More than 600 people filled the 520-seat auditorium for the first Mass. With an even larger crowd expected Sunday, Mass will be held in the Bishop England gymnasium.
Another local paper, meantime, has this:
A search for a more permanent home for the church will be underway soon, though Father West has reason to be patient with the physical location. “It is imperative to remember that a church is a people, not a building,” he advises. “Coming together to celebrate Mass, to pray and to serve, to learn, and to support the wider community, are all reasons why we are a church. Buildings to support the work of the people will come later.”
West’s parishioners couldn’t agree more, clearly feeling that they already have been blessed with a tremendous church leader, regardless of ultimate bricks and mortar. Says Good Shepherd member Betsy Sarsfield of Father West, “He is amazing! He is a very dynamic charismatic priest.” This is perhaps most conspicuous when he offers a homily, the time during Mass reserved for guided reflection around a specific Bible reading. “When I was in the seminary we were taught to prepare our homilies with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” Father West recounts. “The Word of God is alive and addresses the situation of every human in every age. Mixing an explanation of the Bible’s passages with a little humor, I hope that people leave Mass with an ever-stronger sense of how God is in love with them in every moment of life.”
It is an approach clearly resonating with parishioners. Resident Leslie Iaria, who is raising five kids in the Catholic faith, has already seen Father West establish a wonderful connection with the youth of his congregation. “Our family is excited about finally having a parish on Daniel Island,” shares Iaria, “and Father West makes everyone feel so welcome. He has made going to church enjoyable – even our children do not mind going to church anymore!”
Congratulations and prayerful good wishes to all the faithful who have eagerly been awaiting this moment. Ad multos annos!
UPDATE: A local TV station aired a story about the new parish Sunday night: