The Felician Sisters in Kingstree, South Carolina

Christ’s light is emanating from the tiny, rural community of Kingstree, South Carolina. Its warm embrace takes the form of three Felician Sisters—Sister Mary Jacqueline Benbenek, CSSF; Sister Mary Johnna Ciezobka, CSSF; and Sister Mary Susanne Dziedzic, CCSF

Twenty years ago, these faith-filled women arrived in the poverty-stricken town with hearts for service but challenges facing their ministry. As Catholics, they represented only 4% of the religious population. And as they planted their roots on Thorne Avenue, a historically dangerous, crime-ridden road, they witnessed the deep-seated racial and religious tensions that had plagued the area for generations.

As years passed, these women found a home for their ministry amidst the residents of the town. Through tireless perseverance, love and compassion, they have shown how Christ’s love can break down barriers and lift a community into the light.

Catholic Extension is proud to announce that the Felician Sisters in Kingstree, South Carolina are the recipients of the 2012 Lumen Christi Award. For the past 35 years, the Lumen Christi (Latin for “Light of Christ”) Award has been presented to a priest, religious or lay person who has demonstrated how the power of faith can transform lives and communities. These recipients have devoted their lives to serving the poor in the most under-resourced dioceses in the United States, and to fostering Catholic communities that build faith, inspire hope and ignite change. The honor comes 35 years after Catholic Extension’s very first “Light of Christ,” Florence Kaster, received the award for her work in the same county.

The Felician Sisters of Kingstree, SC
In more than 20 years of service to the people in Kingstree, South Carolina, the Felician Sisters have unleashed the power of faith through the community.

“We made a pact when we first moved here that we would be present to the people,” said Sister Johnna, “that it would be our main ministry. We will be present to the neighbors, we will be present to the Church.” 

It is in living amongst the people of Kingstree that the Felician Sisters recognized the urgent physical and spiritual needs of the community. They met these needs with a grassroots community outreach ministry that has changed the face of Thorne Avenue, and now serves hundreds of people a month.

The extraordinary influence of the Sisters goes beyond the hearts of each individual person they touch. As the presence of the Catholic Church in Kingstree, they have been guided by the Holy Spirit to serve as bridge builders. The Sisters have created a family with 11 different Christian denominations and more than 60 volunteers of all ages and races. With the Sisters at the forefront, they have come together to unify their community, foster understanding and bring a hope-filled future to a southern town once polarized by fear and distrust.

Now, as Lumen Christi Award recipients, they will receive $50,000 worth of funding to be shared equally between their ministry and the Diocese of Charleston. With this funding, they will expand their services on Thorne Avenue and bring in a fourth sister to help them meet the continuing needs of Kingstree.

The Felician Sisters are tireless in their work to bring God’s unconditional love and mercy to their struggling community. At Catholic Extension, we are honored to recognize their commitment to the Catholic Church in America.

That’s the almost unbelievable thing in the rural South, to see the cooperation rather than the competition between churches, and to see old biases and worries pushed aside to do the work of God and be the light of Christ in the world. That’s the thing that really and truly is amazing and a blessing to us all—to learn something about Christianity. To be able to work together to serve those in need is glorious.

[The Felician Sisters]—they love the people that they minister to. They love the people that they minister with and they are what they profess to be. There’s a sincerity and authority in the way that they live, what they believe. They live what they teach and they live in the light of Christ. 

- Father Jeff Richardson, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
  Kingstree, South Carolina