St. Peter's Historic Chapel unveils, dedicates historic marker

emoody@beaufortgazette.comNovember 14, 2013 

More than a century and a half ago, County Cork, Ireland, immigrant Michael O'Connor wanted a place in Beaufort for his family and other Catholics to worship.

So he built a church.

On Thursday, his great-great-grandson, John Pugh, witnessed the official unveiling and dedication of a historic marker recognizing the contribution his ancestor made.

"It's been wonderful seeing the progress of this," Pugh said. "We were here two years ago, and it was in real need of restoration."

St. Peter's Catholic Church undertook an extensive restoration of the St. Peter's Historic Chapel at 710 Carteret St. in summer 2012, and it reopened for tours and small weddings, funerals and services in February.

It was built in 1846, and O'Connor gave it to the Catholic Diocese of Charleston for $3, church historian Barbara Stanley said. It was the only Catholic church between the Broad River and Charleston until 1987, the Rev. Paul MacNeil, pastor, has said.

"St. Peter's Catholic Church has been a beacon of light, hope and cooperation in the Beaufort community for 167 years now, a sign of commitment and faithfulness," Stanley said at the dedication.

St. Peter's and the Beaufort County Historical Society sponsored the ceremony, which was preceded by a Mass in the chapel and followed by tours of the building and graveyard.

"The history of the church and graveyard gives great insight into the history of the Beaufort area," Stanley said.

She listed people buried in the cemetery, such as war Civil War veteran Franklin Talbird; U.S. Congressman Michael Patrick; prominent local river men like John Franz and Capt. John O'Brien; Sea Island Hotel proprietress Alice O'Dell; and her daughter, Maude Tille O'Dell, who performed on Broadway for 40 years.

During the Civil War, the church was a school run by abolitionists for former slaves, and in 1988, it became a Chapel of Perpetual Prayer, open 24 hours a day to the community.

In 1987, St. Peter's moved services to a 450-seat church on Lady's Island. A sanctuary with a capacity of 1,200 was completed in 2006 on what is now a 30-acre campus on Lady's Island Drive.

As cars and trucks rumbled by -- and after incense set off the fire alarm -- MacNeil joked that O'Connor would once again recognize the chapel he built, although maybe not the sounds.

And it looked just right to John Pugh. He's a native and resident of Maryland, but visited Beaufort frequently when he was younger. His grandmother, O'Connor's granddaughter, filled his head with her stories of growing up in Charleston and the Lowcountry, and the lure of family history remains strong, he said.

"This is special," he said. "My great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother are buried here."

Free tours are provided by trained docents from 1 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, 1 to 3 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Information: 843-522-9555, stpeters-church.org


Video: Historic marker dedication at St. Peter's in Beaufort (:41)

A morning dedication ceremony marked the unveiling Nov. 14, 2013, of a historical marker at St. Peter's Historic Chapel in Beaufort. Sarah Welliver

In related news:

  • Beth Israel Synagogue, 401 Scott St., has been awarded National Historic Register recognition, according to Linda Hoffman of the Beaufort County Historical Society. The synagogue's cornerstone was laid in 1905 and the building completed in 1908. A marker and dedication are planned.
  • Port Royal Elementary School is being considered Friday by the S.C. State Board of Review for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The original school was built in 1911, and has been renovated and expanded over time. If nominated, the application will be sent to the National Park Service for final review.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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