Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church - Greenwood - South Carolina
By: Jennifer-Walker Journey
The history of Our Lady of Lourdes in Greenwood, South Carolina, reads like a love story. From the breathtaking stained glasswork to the elegant statuary, it is a love letter written to God by a priest with a creative eye and a vision to glorify.
"The Holy Spirit built our church. Everything fell into place so perfectly, we knew that it was the hand of God," said the Rev. Richard D. Harris, though he won't deny that he literally went to great lengths to make sure the building and the structures within bore precise symbolism.
The story of Our Lady of Lourdes begins in 1926, with a modest church building. By 1964, the church had grown and thus moved onto five acres where it continued to expand through the years to meet the needs of its congregation.
In 1999, Father Harris became the priest there to 700-750 households who attended his three English masses and one Hispanic mass. The 225-seat sanctuary overflowed into an adjacent hallway, where chairs were set up to accommodate the crowd. Masses were prayerful and reverent, Father Harris admits, but a bit awkward.
At the time Father Harris was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes, the church already had purchased land and had contracted with Pazdan-Smith Group Architects to develop a master plan for a new church.
The congregation was completing a capital campaign with hopes of being in a new building by 2000, but fundraising efforts were slow. By 1999, when Father Harris came on board, the property for a new church had been purchased with a small amount of seed money remaining toward the goal of a new building. But actually being in a new church building by 2000 was simply unaffordable.
Thus, the church's efforts became focused on building a church in the near future. Rather than reviving the capital campaign, Father Harris put his sights on "preaching and teaching" the importance of stewardship and tithing. He also allowed parishioners to donate money to purchase the furnishings in honor or memory of loved ones.
He set goals and was blessed to see his efforts slowly pay off. By 2003, Our Lady of Lourdes broke ground at its future location.
Initially, the church had planned to scale back on the building to accommodate a tight budget, but once ground was broken, the money kept flowing in. The extras were added back into the project, including the priest's passion for detail.
Father Harris took the design of the church seriously, for he knew he would play a vital role in shaping its heart. The architects had to be familiar with the Catholic church and sensitive to the Catholic liturgy. He researched Pazdan-Smith Group and also learned that Joe Pazdan was Catholic and was convinced the firm should stay on board as the new church took shape.
"Following the principles outlined in Domus Dei: Built of Living Stone, we took great care in coming to know the inherent relationships that combine Catholic practices with built form," said Lisa Lanni, AIA, and partner with Pazdan-Smith Group.
The firm understood that the site, identified as "the outer gathering," forms a connection to the community and should include symbolic religious plantings, have a connection to water, and incorporate all modern conveniences, including the convergence of vehicular and pedestrian paths. The church is the focal point of the site, with the chapel's dramatic stained glass windows facing the street.
"As parishioners approach the covered drop-off points, they see the Rose window and immediately follow a clear path marked by stone column bases and recessed mosaic tiles," Lanni said.
The Pazdan-Smith Group master plan included a 12,500-square-foot church with a Parish Hall, offices, classrooms, and a future school. The first phase was the church and included a narthex, priest vesting, sacristy, family room, restrooms, daily chapel, choir loft, sanctuary, baptistery, and nave. To accommodate a growing congregation, the church was designed with side aisles and an exterior colonnade. The colonnade was designed so that the outer colonnade could be enclosed and the exterior windows removed to increase seating from 800 to 1,200.
The church is built in the neo-Romanesque style and basilica form. The exterior was made of brick detailing featuring a Hanson hand-molded brick with chocolate accents that is prominent in the colonnade beside the church. Brick is used as a liturgical feature – additional brick detailing on the exterior represents Alpha/Omega and the symbols of the cross. Above the wooden entry doors, a soldier course of chocolate brick complements the carved mahogany details. A brick bell tower soars 107 feet through and above the choir loft, housing statuary above and featuring a skylight directing the sunlight onto the Baptismal Font. It is one of the highest church spires in the Greenwood area.
Traditionally, the narthex provides an extended threshold between the site and the nave.
The church was designed with 12-foot custom-made mahogany doors hand-carved with grapevine designs to symbolize the grapes that contribute to the making of sacred wine, symbolic of the blood of Christ. The doors open to the nave, which is contained by a heavy timber structure that wells upward from the sidewalls and aisles. The stations of the cross are set into niches under the arched windows, and the daily chapel sits within the Apse and has views to breathtaking stained glass windows.
"The floors of the nave are humble – polished concrete with a center aisle of granite to accent the procession between Baptistry and altar," Lanni said. "The overall feeling is one of peace, harmony and balance."
The sanctuary is further beautified by granite, which covers the raised floor of the sanctuary. The wall has marble accents and sanctuary niches for Mary and Joseph.
The altar and statuary in the church were built by a craftsman using Italian marble and designed in large part by Father Harris. He was able to fly to Italy, tour the quarries, and actually consult with the craftsman, who made some changes as Father Harris stood nearby.
The altar is cloaked in its own symbolism during construction of the church. For several months, Father Harris invited parishioners to write down prayers for others on pieces of paper and drop them into a box. The prayers were never read, but instead were sealed within the box. The box was then buried under the altar during construction.
Father Harris also worked closely with the artist who made the large stained glass window in the sanctuary, which rises above the tabernacle. He insisted on a suffering Christ and edited proofs by the artist until the drawing was perfect. Then he asked that a wooden crucifix be imbedded in the large window.
Above that window, a round window was placed to look "as if heaven has opened up and is looking down on us," he said. It holds seven of the nine choirs of angels. The other two choirs are seen in the Crucifixion window.
The same attention to detail was paid to all the stained glasswork in the chapel, which was dedicated to the Blessed Mother and depicts symbols of Mary in the stained glass with Christ as the center focus.
The church was completed in 2004. Pazdan-Smith Group recently completed the second phase of the Our Lady of Lourdes' master plan, adding classroom space and a church office.
"The next step will be to complete the parish activity center, which is a future addition to the parish office/classroom building," Lanni said. "The master plan includes a columbarium and reflection pond, and we have made provisions for a future elementary school and playing fields."
Pazdan-Smith Group, www.pazdan-smith.com, is based in Greenville, South Carolina. It has completed small to complex and national projects, providing services including master planning, architectural design, construction documentation, and interior design.
In a Nutshell
Church: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church