Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston and hundreds of other people turned out on Sunday as Saint Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new house of worship.


After a 5 p.m. mass at Saint Angela Hall, the congregation, religious dignitaries and visitors marched in a procession across Fairfield Street to the site where the new church will be built. Guglielmone blessed the ground and then joined St. Mary's pastor, Gregory Wilson, and others in hoisting shovels filled with dirt.


“We ask God's blessing for a number of things,” Guglielmone said. “First of all, we ask that the project will go well. Secondly, we ask that no workers will be injured as this process continues. And thirdly, we ask that all the supporters of this wonderful project may experience and actually feel the graces and blessings that God will shower upon all who have made this project come to this point.”


Guglielmone described the new church as an opportunity “to invite more and more and more people to come in and experience the beauty of the risen Lord that is such a part of our own lives that we want to share it with everyone.”


Saint Mary uses two facilities for services. The current church can hold 280 people and Saint Angela Hall can hold 616. The new church will be able to accommodate more than 900 people. There are approximately 1,800 families in Saint Mary's parish.


Plans call for the $8.9 million construction project to be completed by Christmas in 2014.


“We are very excited and very happy,” Wilson said. “So many people have made this possible. It is truly the work of a few thousand people.”


The construction of a new church is a sign that Saint Mary's parish “is prospering,” said Wayne Frei. “We have a lot of young people; we're growing, and we're healthy.”


Added Frei's wife, Mary: “It will be a real blessing when we see it finished. Sentimentally, I'm glad that the old church is remaining and will still be used.”


Daily masses, school masses, weddings and funerals will be held at the current church after the new facility is completed.


Mary Dyches Kenney's family used to own the land where the new church will be constructed. The property once was the site of a livery stable and then Dyches Building Supply was located there.


“I'm delighted that they are going to use this property for a new church building,” said the 90-year-old Aiken resident, who watched the groundbreaking ceremony while sitting in a vehicle parked at the site.


Kenney isn't one of Saint Mary's parishioners, but “my family has had close ties to this church for many years,” she said.