Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone is the bishop of Charleston, which includes the entire state of South Carolina. Since his appointment in January 2009, he has guided the diocese through a period of continuing growth.
Since its first grant to the diocese in 1909, Catholic Extension has provided more than $13 million in grants (in today’s dollars) to the Church in South Carolina. Over the past five years, the diocese has participated in nine Catholic Extension strategic initiatives.
Tell us about the growth of the Catholic Church in South Carolina.
Like most dioceses in the South, we are seeing tremendous growth that is coming from three trends.
First is the exodus of people from the North to the South. Some come here to retire because of the lower cost of living, and others because of business and job opportunities. Boeing and other major corporations have brought thousands of jobs to the Charleston area. That is helping the local folks, but it’s also bringing more people here.
Second is the continued influx of Latinos, whose presence continues to make a tremendous difference in the Church.
And third, many people are converting to the Catholic Church — some requesting baptism and others coming from other Christian denominations.
What are the opportunities and challenges of this growth?
We’ve recently built four schools: a replacement elementary school, a high school expansion and two new high schools.
We also just created two new parishes and are looking at starting four more. And over the past eight years we have constructed at least 10 new larger churches for existing parishes.
Another consequence of our growth is the need for additional services, such as from Catholic Charities. There is a whole section of South Carolina that is called the “Corridor of Shame,” which has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. There are growing demands for help for people who are really struggling.
How do you marshal the resources for these increased needs?
In our diocese we have put a new stress on stewardship and the need for people to come together and help the Church meet the needs of the people. Between this increased stewardship by our people — especially by many of the newcomers — as well as our partnership with Catholic Extension and other groups, we have been able to meet most of the needs.
How is the Catholic Church in Charleston different from Long Island, where you grew up?
On Long Island we were more than 50 percent of the population. In South Carolina, we are only 4 to 5 percent. Maybe in part because of that, people tend to be more actively involved in Church here.
Our young people need a strong Catholic identity because they are constantly challenged about their faith, especially in public schools. Their desire for connection with the Church is strong. We have an extremely active youth ministry. And although we have no Catholic colleges, we have a Catholic presence in almost every public and private college in the state.
How has the diocese responded to the influx of Latinos?
We recently revamped our entire Hispanic ministry program and through Catholic Extension’s Hispanic Lay Leadership Initiative were able to hire a new director, who is a real spark plug.
We have focused on faith formation and, with Catholic Extension’s help, we are now running a Spanish-language School of Faith. This weekend program runs for 10 to 12 weeks and has more than 800 participants in six locations.
We have also strengthened our outreach to Latino youth and are working to get the Latino and Anglo youth together in many programs.
Your diocese is one of 12 participating in Catholic Extension’s U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program. What impact have the four Mexican sisters had at the southern end of the diocese?
We are absolutely delighted. They serve in four parishes and one mission in the region, all of which have large Latino populations. They not only welcome people to the parish in Spanish, but they are reaching out in the communities, visiting homes, listening to and inviting people to Church.
Where previously we were losing people to evangelical churches, we’ve now been able to hold onto Latino Catholics. Thanks to the sisters, they see that the Church cares about them.
In terms of vocations, their presence with young women is a great gift. They have even encouraged a few young men to consider the priesthood.
The sisters have an unbelievable enthusiasm. And it’s not just the Hispanic population that responds well to them — it’s everyone. They are doing a great service for the Latino communities and are serving as a bridge for the parishes.
How is the ministry of the Felician Sisters in Kingstree, who received the 2012 Lumen Christi Award?
Absolutely fantastic. I don’t know where they get their energy. One of the most beautiful things that they have accomplished is that their work in this poor community is no longer simply a Catholic ministry. They have brought on board almost every one of the local Protestant churches to help attack the area’s rampant social problems.
What impact has Catholic Extension had in your diocese?
In addition to the program with the Mexican sisters, we have also participated in the Young Adult Leadership Initiative, Hispanic Lay Leadership Initiative and the various Catholic schools initiatives.
Catholic Extension has been financially supporting our diocese for more than 100 years. But in addition to that, we’ve also greatly benefited from the resources of ideas, support and encouragement.
For all of that I want to express my sincere gratitude. There’s a certain sense of pride in saying that we’ve been able to do great things because of the donors of Catholic Extension who are exceptionally generous and focused on the needs of the Church. ¡Muchas gracias!