ANDERSON, S.C. — After almost a month of being at their new home at St. Joseph Church, Paul Williams, OFM, and Henry Fulmer, OFM, are settling in and being welcomed.
“We’re still learning about the people and they’re still learning about us,” said Paul (shown in photo) in an interview with reporter Mike Ellis of the Independent Mail. The article, that ran March 18, carried the headline, “Franciscan Friars Bring Flair of Fun and Faith to St. Joseph Catholic Church.”
The two friars, who came from St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, S.C., were assigned to the venerable St. Joseph, founded in 1881, at the request of the bishop of Charleston. Paul is the pastor and Henry (pictured together in rear photo) is the pastoral assistant. St. Martin — a diocesan parish where the friars had served for eight years — is looking for a new pastor, according to Paul, who said the congregation was sad to see the friars leave.
Paul and Henry are getting their bearings in the parish of 750 households, and say that for a year the rule of thumb is to simply observe. “Then we’ll see what direction the congregation wants to take and what we need,” Paul is quoted as saying in the article.
The two friars describe the Franciscan Order in the article, saying, “The Franciscans have always had a spirit of simplicity, of preaching well and inviting the parish in faith. Also, too, people have commented that Franciscans have a spirit of joy.”
Both Catholic parishes in Anderson are now served by Franciscans; the friars have staffed St. Mary of the Angels Church there since 1943. Holy Name friars are also at St. Anthony of Padua and Our Lady of the Rosary churches in Greenville, S.C., and at nearby Clemson, S.C., University.
Welcomed at a Reception
The two were welcomed with an April 2 reception, following the evening Mass, said Paul. Approximately 150 parishioners attended, enjoying hearty hors d’oeuvres and conversation.
Several parishioners expressed very positive observations about the friars’ style, said Michael Stein, the parish’s director of mission advancement. “I heard people saying, ‘We’re glad to have devout and holy priests,’ and ‘This is a great thing for our community. It feels like we are a family again.’
“The congregation has been very welcoming of an African-American pastor, and very supportive and appreciative of that fact that I said ‘yes,’ to being their pastor,” said Paul, who grew up in Alexandria, Va.
Paul added that he would like to work more collaboratively with St. Mary Parish, and said he has already discussed it with Aubrey McNeil, OFM, its pastor.
The two churches in this western S.C. town, he said, have an interesting history. St. Mary was founded to be the African-American church, while St. Joseph was founded to minister to white people. Thankfully, Paul said, the rules of southern segregation are long dead, and the two parishes can work together. Both, he said, appeal to white, black, Asian and Hispanic members.
— Wendy Healy, a freelance writer based in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jocelyn Thomas contributed to this article.