Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“While I breathe I hope”: Promise in South Carolina

Bishop John England (1786-1842) must be glad we’re in his diocese. As the founder of the first Catholic newspaper in the U.S., as well as the parish-based Book Society, and as editor of a catechism plus a missal in English, the Irish-born bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, (how did he come by the name of England?) would appreciate the presence of sisters committed to bringing people to encounter Christ within the culture of modern communication. His diocese is still a mission Church, one that serves the entire state. In fact, Catholics comprise a little less than four percent of South Carolina’s population.

Jerusalem, you’ve got some competition. As signs of liturgical life, past and present, churches dominate the skyline of Charleston and so have earned it the name “The Holy City.” During the colonial period tolerance for every religion except Catholicism made it a spiritual hot spot, allowing even one of the oldest Jewish congregations in the country to thrive here.

I imagine the city’s founders have made peace with Bishop England over the vibrancy of his Church here, though in our regard, not without a little wicked glee: In 1984 they must have prayed the Daughters into the charming historical building on King St.—a Class 5, the highest rating—headaches and all. The Siegling Family of German piano builders had opened one of America’s first music stores in 1838, and their edifice became ours. We think, though, that we have one up on them all: Neither they nor the founding fathers could have known that few shops would have been more appropriate for a community that would be known in various parts of the world for evangelizing through its music!

Following our arrival we adapted the space to our community and apostolic needs. In recent years, though, it became clear that a major restoration would be needed. Although our health and safety, as well as that of our customers and guests, was the immediate motivation for the change, the community also envisioned providing a way to ensure enough for both future maintenance and mission development. Meanwhile, another factor emerged. Nationwide, our health coverage became cost prohibitive, which drove us to drop it altogether. So the sisters visualize that fund helping to provide coverage for us in Charleston, besides something for basic living expenses. This way all income from the mission would go back into it. Normally, our evangelizing work provides for our personal and communal needs, but even with the ecumenical outreach that the sisters do, income in the mission territory of South Carolina is insufficient for their support.

So in 2006, after praying and asking others to pray, the four Paulines here set to work. By June last year they, their advisory board, their friends, and the Pauline Cooperators had raised $180,000 to restore and renew the exterior. Meanwhile they began exploring ways to raise funds for the next phase, which entails first, solidifying the floor in the book and media center and the several adjoining offices and rooms and replacing the carpet with wood laminate, more practical for a humid climate. The second goal links directly to the media nature of the mission. From its early configuration as a Catholic book store, the PBM (Pauline Books & Media) Center has metamorphosed into a center of spirituality and Catholic media resources in the heart of the city, the only one of its kind for hundreds of miles around, hosting several gatherings on a weekly basis, especially for young people. Thus, that second goal is to change one of those spaces into a state-of-the-art conference room that would be utilized for hosting Pauline ministry events, including some that could generate income. Price tag for both the floor and conference room: $125,000. There are still the living quarters to think of.

As the restoration and renovation work of one phase is being done, the next is being planned and budgeted so that funds can be raised. The most gratifying aspect of it all is the spirited involvement of everyone who has invested in it and built community with the sisters. They hold golf tournaments on the Isle of Palms or Daniel Island, that draw people from all over, or designate the community as the benefitting charity at the Nationwide Tour Championship. Volunteers staff Lydia’s Corner, an upscale consignment boutique in a section of the PBM Center. “Don’t even call it a second-hand store,” chided Sister Jane R. Livingston, the superior, aghast at my unforgiveable gaffe. “This is Charleston!”

With the Charleston community and its circle of friends,
Sr. Jane cared for her 57-year-old sister, Sr. Cecilia
Paula, until she died of cancer earlier this year. Sr. Cecilia
offered her prayer and suffering for every aspect of
her community's life.
Donors and collaborators feel that they’re the ones benefitting. “You don’t understand what we get from giving to you,” they say again and again. Sr. Jane comments, “They feel a part of the mission that will carry on into the future.” That mission includes the PBM Center’s weekly Bible classes for young adults, a young women’s faith sharing group called “Spirituali-Tea,” a women’s book club, and a weekly children’s story hour during the academic year, as well as offsite initiatives in parishes and schools. Sisters Clare S. Kralovic and Deborah Marie Dunevant will continue our Pauline presence here, while Sister Marie James Hunt joins them. A few months from now, Sister Jane concludes her second term as superior and will assist her parents in southern California. She considers as foundational her role in establishing with the Charleston team an infrastructure to stabilize our presence here: “I’m setting the chessboard. Whoever comes after me just has to play the game.”

Regardless of the camaraderie and collaboration, finding enough funds for such a project among just over four million South Carolinians is daunting. They can roll up their sleeves only so far. If you feel inspired to support their efforts, you can send your donation to:
The Daughters of St. Paul Building Fund
243 King St.
Charleston, SC  29401

Questions? Call 843-577-0175.

Pray for them and with them for those they serve, especially for other young women to carry their legacy into another generation. Where there’s life there’s hope. *

* “While I breathe I hope” is one of the state’s two mottos.


  1. Dear Sr. Margaret,

    Many thanks for this wonderful piece. May God bless the people of South Carolina and fill their hearts with His love. Amen. May God prosper the Daughters of St. Paul in their mission in South Carolina, USA, Canada and in all the continents & small islands in the world. Amen.

    Margie Skeels
    Pauline Cooperator

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  4. Hello Sr. Margaret !!!
    Sorry, I accidentally deleted my post, lol!
    What I want to share is that last week my friend and I visited the Charleston, SC store and had THE MOST WONDERFUL VISIT and EXPERIENCE with Sr. Jane and a handful of the other Sisters :-D What a wonderful time!
    I LOVE the Daughters of St. Paul, the D.S.P. choir and Pauline Media! I lived near the NYC store for a while and LOVED sharing and learning with them as well! Thank you for all you and your Sisters do -- for us! May Peace, Love and Mercy be yours :-)


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