The lessons of his homilies will continue as clearly as the sound of the church bells he helped restore, but the presence of Father Richard Wilson will be missed from St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom. After three years and three months of service to Georgetown, the parish administrator has been transferred by the Archdiocese of Charleston to North Augusta, South Carolina.
The relocation offers the priest not only a promotion to the position of pastor at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church but the opportunity to interact with the students and staff at Our Lady of Peace Catholic School. The parochial school offers classes from preschool to eighth grade and welcomes families from both Georgia and South Carolina. “It will be great to try and serve the families there and help them grow in Christ. I’m looking forward to getting to know children in the school,” said Wilson, who, with the help of Sister Bonnie McHugh, recruited teachers and structured a Sunday religious education program for all students at St. Mary’s.
While moving onward and making changes might seem routine for the army veteran, Father Wilson still goes to God for strength in rising to new challenges. “I carry a coin in my pocket all the time,” said the former lieutenant colonel, contemplating this next phase of his priesthood. “It has an image of Pope Saint John Paul II on one side and these words on the other: ‘Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you.’ I love that phrase because that is how our Lord is. We can trust Him to provide for us. In our weakness and sin, God still uses us if we are faithful.”
Wilson arrived in Georgetown in April of 2017 and immediately began working with the Sisters of Charity to combine the parishioners of St. Cyprian on Front Street with those who attended St. Mary’s on Broad Street. “With lots of prayers and support, we were able to accomplish the merger,” said Wilson, who was also instrumental in repainting the sanctuary’s interior, demolishing the old rectory, re-roofing the parish hall, installing new doors and addressing future drainage issues. “My only regret is I will not be here to see some of the major improvements that are coming in the future,” said Wilson, who remains thankful for his staff, the new rectory, the church councils, the musicians and to God for the extreme generosity of the faithful, including Deacon Mike Brescia and his wife, Maria.
Wilson further reflected, “As a team, we accomplished a number of projects on our church and grounds. I will always remember that beautiful bell announcing the consecration of the Eucharist! I am confident that the faithful of the parish will pray for their new priest and each other and offer their support as they did for me.”
Small farewell receptions were held after each of the four masses on June 27th and 28th to allow parishioners a chance to share memories and say goodbye. Knights of Columbus member and former South Carolina Sir Knight of the Year, Colin Peterson said that he appreciated Father Wilson’s sincere and loving family references as well as his improvements to the church facilities. Peterson shared a story of when he first met Father Wilson just before Wilson’s transfer to St. Mary’s. “I happened upon him at the annual Pro-Life Rally up in Columbia,” recalled Peterson, noting how Wilson “walked the walk” by “demonstrating his clear and profound belief in the Respect Life Movement in promoting the sanctity of life at conception.”
Altar server Barbara Mathis commended Father Wilson’s organizational skills, his abilities to meet the challenges of a large congregation, his financial planning experience and his bilingualism. “In the retrospectascope,” said Mathis, “I gained clarity that it was God’s plan. All of these paths prepared him for the challenges at St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church in the role of administrator here. By his leadership, our church grew with the merging of St. Cyprian parish; the children’s religious education program has flourished and our economic status is positive. His reverence in the Mass and love of our Lord is palpable. He will be missed.”
Father Wilson remarked that he will never forget the tree-lined streets of the historic district, the stunning beauty of the church, the small-town feeling of Georgetown and the abundant recreational opportunities in the area. “A significant challenge was keeping my weight at a reasonable level,” he quipped. “In Georgetown, there are just too many awesome restaurants within walking distance. It’s been a pleasure to live here!”
Father Zbigniew Zielinski has been assigned as temporary administrator for the parish until a long-term priest can be selected. The Polish-born priest will be bringing 22 years of experience and is expected on July 15.