In the early 1970s, Northeast Columbia was a rural area. Most of its Catholics attended Mass at Fort Jackson. A few drove into Columbia to St. Joseph’s or St. Peter’s. In the mid 1970s, Northeast Columbia began to grow. Neighborhoods started to be developed, malls were built, and the Catholic population grew.
The Diocese of Charleston decided a new church was needed to support the growing Catholic population. The southeastern and northeastern parts of Richland county were considered for the new church site. They were rural areas that had potential for growth.
On March 9, 1976, by the authority of Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler, a representative from St. Joseph Church purchased five acres of land on Polo Road for a new church.
After the land purchase, the northeastern Richland county area was designated a mission of St. Joseph Parish. At Bishop Unterkoefler’s request, Fr. Bert Connor, a Jesuit priest, came from New Orleans to start the mission. It was named the Catholic Community Northeast in Columbia.
The first priority was to select a venue to celebrate Mass. E. L. Wright Middle School was chosen. On February 7, 1977, Fr. Connor celebrated the first Sunday Mass there. Fr. Tawes and Fr. Fix, priests from St. Joseph, alternated with Fr. Connor in celebrating Mass. In the first months, nearly 50 families registered as members. By the end of the year, over 200 had registered.
On June 15, 1977, Bishop Unterkoefler appointed Fr. Thomas M. Gillin, S. J. the first pastor of the Catholic Community of Northeast Columbia. Joe Roth, a seminarian and close friend of Fr. Gillin, assisted him in developing the parish,.
On August 12, 1977, the Catholic Community Northeast of Columbia was officially declared a new parish.
On December 19, 1977, the parish was named St. John Neumann Catholic Church. St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 to 1860, had been recently canonized.
In early 1978, Fr. Gillin appointed a building committee. The plan was to build a church with a seating capacity of 600 and parking for 125 cars. The new church would include a nursery, social hall, kitchen, plus space for religious education classes and group meetings. Portable chairs, instead of pews, were used. The church was designed to be sectioned off with moveable partitions; hence, its shape.
With a gift of $20,000 from St. Joseph Parish, the new church building fund was started.
On August 15, 1978, ground-breaking ceremonies for the new church were held.
On December 2, 1979, St. John Neumann Catholic Church was officially dedicated.
In 1984, after serving seven years as pastor, Fr. Gillin left St. John Neumann. He was replaced by Fr. Robert H. Fix. Fr. Fix was a native of Red Bank, New Jersey. He had been ordained a priest in 1953 in the Crosier Order at the Crosier House of Studies in Hastings, Nebraska. Fr. Fix left SJN in 1985.
In 1986, Wildewood School was purchased. It is now the St. John Neumann Catholic School.
In 1987, Fr. Charles J. Snopek came to SJN as parochial vicar, eventually becoming associate pastor. A native of Cresco, Iowa, he had been ordained in the Charleston Diocese in 1986. This was his first parish. Fr. Snopek left in 1988.
In 1988, Fr. Frederick F. Masad replaced Fr. Snopek. Fr. Masad was born in Columbia and graduated from The Theological College of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C., in 1960. He was ordained a priest for the Charleston Diocese at St. Peter Church in Columbia, in 1960, the church where he had been baptized.
Under Fr. Masad’s leadership, St. John Neumann Catholic School became a two-time National Blue Ribbon Award winner. And the parish more than doubled in size. He was the pastor for 22 years before retiring and becoming Pastor Emeritus in 2010. Fr. Masad died on July 16, 2014.
In 2010, Fr. C. Alexander “Sandy” McDonald became pastor of St. John Neumann. Fr. Sandy was ordained a priest in 1991. He has served the Church in South Carolina. Since ordination, he served as an assistant priest at St. Joseph in Columbia and St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken. He was pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Walterboro, and St. James the Greater Mission, Ritter, also in Walterboro, in 1994. From 1996 to 2006, he was assigned to Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta. In 2006, he became pastor in Clemson, Seneca and Walhalla.St. John Neumann Catholic Church is blessed to have Fr. Sandy for its pastor and looks forward to many more years under his leadership.
In 2014, Fr. Sandy was joined at the parish helm by newly ordained Fr. Javier Heredia as Parochial Vicar.
Fr. Javier was born in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. He lived in Mexico until he immigrated to South Carolina in 1996, where he worked on a farm until he entered the seminary in 2004. During those seminarian years, he said he had many opportunities to grow in his relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. He was assigned to serve in various parishes and to also to minister to the homebound and the imprisoned.
He was ordained a priest in June 2014 and is now enjoying his ministry. “That is in part due to the kindness of the St. John Neumann family,” he said. “I look forward to a fruitful ministry. Allow me to remind you of some words I shared with you during my first weekend here: ‘In the seminary, they taught me how to be a priest; but it is your job to teach me how to be a father.’ Thanks to all of you. I humbly ask for your prayers. And please be assured of mine.”