A Catholic Hill congregation is rejoicing after precious wood stolen from its church was recovered.
The heart pine wood had been salvaged during a long-awaited renovation of the school building at Saint James the Greater Catholic Mission in Colleton County. The Mission had been built by freed slaves in the late 1800s.
The wood was going to be used to build an altar and other items for the church, but the wood, which was in a trailer in front of the church, was stolen on June 29 along with the trailer.
For weeks, Father Jeffrey Kendall, the church’s pastor and a man of faith, doubted that he ever would see the wood again. On Friday, he got quite the surprise when he received a call that someone in town had found it.
Catholic Hill is a small community about 40 miles southwest of Charleston. Shortly after the theft, Kendall distributed fliers around Catholic Hill and had friends post fliers in the neighboring Green Pond area.
“Someone saw the flier with the reward ($500) and he went and made some inquiries and found our wood,” said Kendall.
Some men in the community, who Kendall would not identify for safety reasons, retrieved the wood and brought it back to the church. Kendall said the wood was found dumped, but would not specify where.
The Colleton County Sheriff’s Office investigation is ongoing, so authorities are not releasing details.
Kendall is ready to execute his plans for the wood, which he intends to use to make a new altar, an ambo (similar to a podium), a baptismal font and a cross.
“I felt shock and disbelief, and then you move to elation and relieved because this loot has an emotional and historical value that’s simply irreplaceable,” Kendall said.
Maria Aselage, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, called the recovery a blessing. “We are confident that prayers and the perseverance of Father Kendall and his parishioners aided in the repossession of the heart pine. Now, the congregation at St. James the Greater Catholic Mission can look forward to celebrating the sacraments at an altar, ambo and baptismal font that symbolizes their history, their endurance as a church community and their faith.”
Saint James the Greater Catholic Mission is one of the older churches in South Carolina, spanning generations. Throughout its nearly two centuries the church has been built and rebuilt.
It sits in an unincorporated section of Colleton County and was started by Irish plantation owners who settled there in the early 19th century. The church building was erected around 1826.
Plantation owners and their slaves would worship there. The slaves, who were later freed, continued worshiping in the Catholic faith, and in the 1870s the freed slaves built the school house, according to Kendall. “They built it on their own,” Kendall said.
About 12 years ago, the school building was in such disrepair that the church had to stop all activities they held inside it.
The congregation started raising money to renovate the building. It’s been a work in progress for more than a decade, according to Kendall. They started the renovation a few weeks ago.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.