“Casa Encuentro,” Ward, South Carolina

It has been a little over a year since three Daughters of Charity (Srs. Consuelo, Migdalia, and Paula) and one Vincentian priest of the Eastern Province (Fr. Orlando Cardona) arrived in South Carolina, to begin a new mission for immigrants.  Saluda County is a sparsely populated area (44 people and 21 housing units per square mile), where farming is the main industry.

The only Catholic Church in the county is St. William’s, a small parish located on a plot of donated farmland. The original church was constructed in a cornfield, but when the local Highway was built about 100 years ago, Catholic families donated a portion of their farmland alongside the highway for a new church in Ward.

The parish complex consists of an activities center, rectory, convent (newly renovated for the Sisters to live and also use for parish community space), and several acres of land used for outdoor sports and games. 

Since their arrival, the Daughters of Charity and Fr. Cardona have established a pastoral outreach of faith, hope, and charity for immigrant farm workers in the area. They conduct home and sick visits, pastoral counseling, house blessings, funerals, organizational skills programs, and spiritual formation. The pastoral presence of Fr. Cardona and the Daughters is a real treasure for the congregation at St. William’s, who appreciate this wonderful new level of attentiveness.

The dedication and passion of the church community is overwhelming. Parishioners include elderly Catholics, who are longtime residents of the community; Hispanic parishioners, families, and workers; individuals and families who work mainly at the chicken farms and slaughterhouses and primarily live in nearby trailer parks; and seasonal farmhands. With such diverse groups and cultures, the team appreciates the community’s willingness to serve in myriad capacities such as lectors, ushers, catechists, and Eucharistic ministers.

Recently, Fr. Stephen Grozio, CM, Provincial of the Vincentians of the Eastern Province, visited St. William’s and was overwhelmed by the close-knit community. During his visit, he had the opportunity to celebrate Mass at St. William’s.

“All of those attending were in their seventies or older and most sat in the back pews of the church,” recalls Fr. Grozio. “[The Daughters and Fr. Cardona] said that when they first arrived, [the elderly parishioners] seemed suspicious and expressed some concern about the growing Hispanic presence there. Apparently, that has been changing and I found them to be very open to their Latino brothers and sisters—a hopeful sign for the future.”

Fr. Grozio is proud and impressed by the work the Daughters and Fr. Cardona have accomplished to encourage the congregation to get involved, be bold, and join the Vincentian mission as it evolves. “I am filled with hope and encouragement,” says Fr. Grozio. “Together, [the Daughters and Vincentians] look ahead to the future and the impact their work is having—and has the potential to have—on those who are underserved and living on the periphery.”

In April 2022, Fr. Vincent Finnerty, CM replaced Fr. Cardona and is now Pastor of St. William’s Church. He is continuing the good work of his predecessor.

Adapted from “The Message”, Spring 2022, Publication of the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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