MARIAN AND MERCIFUL UNDERTAKING. Artistic rendering of the new church. Matthew Alderman
Every day, the new church of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, S.C., gleams more and more like the radiant jewel it will be once construction is completed this summer. It sits on a grassy knoll, with a large expanse of lawn on Augusta Street, a main thoroughfare running from near downtown to a rundown area with few businesses, boarded-up commercial properties and crime.
Deacon Ron Meyer said the area was once part of the city’s textile manufacturing center — Greenville had been deemed the “Textile Capital of the World.” But now, demographically, this area has a lot of older folks and low-income younger families, plus a very large number of transients who drift into town from the Interstate 85 corridor to Atlanta, he said.
The new construction is part of allowing the Divine Mercy that is already flowing to increase all the more. And the fact that it comes during the Jubilee of Mercy provides additional providential punch.
Father Dwight Longenecker, the pastor (and a Register contributor), sees two major aspects at work. “First of all,” he said, “we benefit with a beautiful Catholic church in a particular location.” Second, the location in the poor part of town means the church’s outreach can expand. “So this church is a witness to them as well,” Father Longenecker assessed. It’s mercy all around.
The church is Romanesque in design, a style of church architecture particularly recognizable as “Catholic.” This is impressive, given that it’s being built in the Bible Belt, and the Catholic population in South Carolina is still less than 5%.
“That means a lot of the general population has never seen a church like this,” Father Longenecker said. “This is an opportunity for evangelization.”
The Romanesque style will link people with monasticism, history, the Middle Ages and the arts, the pastor explained: “It is a liberal arts course in brick and stone for the non-Catholic population and a lot of the Catholics.”
For one, the set of 42 stained-glass windows salvaged from St. Mary the Morning Star Church in Pittsfield, Mass., came from Boston’s famed Wilbur Burnham Studios, the country’s premiere stained-glass craftsmen early in the 20th century, who used techniques from the medieval period.
Noted Father Longenecker, “That story itself teaches people about continuity and historic and artistic tradition.”
Windows range from Romanesque-style lancets to large nave and upper-story ones, with scenes that include the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary; saints such as Michael the Archangel and Thomas the Apostle; the story of creation and episodes of the major prophets; and Jesus’ miracles.
“We’ve also salvaged a 19th-century hand-painted crucifix, as well as statues of the saints,” added Father Longenecker. The church’s existing Stations of the Cross were restored by artist Anja Zuneler of Zinclair Studios in California.
Overall, the church will be “a witness to the beauty, truth and goodness of Jesus Christ in this part of town,” Father Longenecker said.
Church tours will be a focal point of outreach. Already, the parish has a history of outreach in the heavily non-Catholic area, mainly with its St. Vincent de Paul Society and food pantry.
But with the new edifice, more works of mercy will radiate.
“Father Longenecker always had a vision the church has got to be more than a building where people go to Mass, weddings and funerals,” noted Deacon Meyer. “It has got to have a role in the community as well, to reach out to help people improve their lives.”
Improvement is coming in various ways. The parish’s small grade school has neighborhood children attending on scholarships. Donors helped the church buy a small single-family house adjoining the property, which volunteers completely refurbished as an outreach center. Deacon Meyer said the church is working to attract representatives from Greenville’s social-service agencies to come there daily, from Alcoholics Anonymous for addiction support to the local St. Francis Hospital for medical outreach.
Deacon Meyer represents the church with Augusta Road’s seven churches in ecumenical efforts to improve the community they serve. With this parish in the lead, the long-range goal is to purchase one of the seedy motels across the street from the church and turn it into a residence with about 110 single-family apartments for senior and low-income housing. “That way, we begin to cut into the bad news and substitute the good news,” the deacon said. “The church will inspire that to happen.”
Added Father Longenecker, “We’d like to expand our outreach to people who live here and say, ‘This is your church, too.’”
Divine Mercy Shrine
Another draw will surely be the church’s Shrine of Divine Mercy for the Southeast. The inspiration of his predecessor got Father Longenecker “interested in the Divine Mercy devotion, and we followed the vision,” he said.
“Because of our location to the interstate, it would make it really accessible for people to say, ‘Hey, there’s a shrine here; it’s easy to stop,’” observed parishioner Mike Bannio. He is studying in the diaconate program and is also in charge of the Divine Mercy shrine.
The shrine will be on the church’s lower level but easily accessed from outside. “We’re going to incorporate a lot of the existing church into the lower level,” Bannio explained. Appointments being repurposed for the Divine Mercy shrine include the altar, the ambo and, among the planned statues, one of St. Faustina, a beautiful multicolored, four-foot, carved-wood image of the saint of Divine Mercy. The image will be placed to the right of the altar.
To the left of the altar will be a statue of St. John Paul, the “Mercy Pope.” The large image of Divine Mercy now in the old church will also move to the shrine. In April, a group will travel to Poland to obtain first-class relics of Sts. Faustina and John Paul for the shrine, as well.
Bannio sees the shrine as a way of allowing the church community to come together in merciful love and then be agents of mercy in the world.
“Divine Mercy doesn’t end at the parish property line,” Bannio said, “but radiates out into the area and affects the people there, as we experience the mercy in the church and bring that out to others.”
The dedication of the new Our Lady of the Rosary Church is already set for — most appropriately — Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the parish’s namesake.
Looking at the project, progress and plans, Deacon Meyer couldn’t help but share, “There is the Catholic Church saying, ‘We think so much of this part of town that we’re willing to invest $5 million to build a new church.’ It can’t help but put Christianity on the map as alive and well in Greenville.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.