In a diocese long identified as missionary, St. Ann’s Church in Kingstree in Williamsburg County is the epitome of missionary territory. For years, priests offered Mass in the homes of lay Catholics, unitl the Lebanese community successfully petitioned the Bishop to establish a parish and provide a permanent priest. There were only forty Catholics in Williamsburg County when the parish was founded in 1947, yet despite cross burnings on catholic property, Catholic life here has long been a model of evangelization and ecumenism.
In the 1950s, some of the diocese’s most energetic initiatives to evangelize African Americans occurred here. Father Patrick Quinlin, St. Ann’s founding pastor, established seven chapels in the county to provide its rural inhabitants easy access to the Church and to spread the Faith. Father Patrick Walsh OP converted a bus into a chapel, named Christ Our King Motor Chapel. Driving the bus throughout the area, he ministered to people living in more remote parts of the Lowcountry.
In 1955, Agnes Hadden donated 125 acres outside Kingstree to the Dominicans who founded Our Lady of Springbank retreat center. Father Patrick Walsh was its first director. Closed in 1979, Springbank was re-opened in 1981 by Dominican men and women. With collaborat6ion of four different women’s religious orders and Sr. Trina McCormick as director, Springbank is today a place of creative spiritual renewal for people of all faiths.
When Father Quinlin first arrived, he requested a lay missionary from “the Grail”, Florence Kaster, to come and start a catechetical program. Then, Sisters of St Mary Namur provided social outreach services and religious education in this area. In 1992, Srs. Johanna Ciezobka Center, that, with the help of an ecumenical group of volunteers, performs charitable works of mercy. Most recently, Bishop Robert Baker established a Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina in Kingstree. Father Stanley Smolenski, a consecrated hermit, conducts retreats at the Shrine which occupies St. Ann’s original church.
St. Ann’s had long outgrown its church building, and by the hand of Providence, the Jewish synagogue became available. Retaining Jewish symbols in the stained-glass windows and brick exterior, Temple Beth Or was converted into a Catholic Church with the addition of a cross and a tabernacle under the direction of Father Michael Okere. Beth Or means “house of light,” and significantly the first Mass celebrated in St. Ann’s new church was the 2006 Easter Vigil which begins with praise of Christ the Light. Where the Torah, the word of God, had sat in a place of honor, the Tabernacle, in which dwells the Word Made Flesh, now resides.
Born under the Old Covenant, St. Ann gave birth to Mary, Mother of the New Covenant. Like their patron, the people of St. Ann’s respect the past and like forward to the future with hope in the love of Christ Our King.
Page # 184-185 of Catholic Diocese of Charleston, A History.