By Joanna Puddister King
GREENVILLE – The grey skies on Tuesday, Nov. 29 did not dampen spirits in celebrating the memorial to longtime St. Joseph parishioner, Salvador Sarullo. The dedication and Mass at St. Joseph School, planned for outdoors, was moved indoors due to the threat of severe thunderstorms in the region.
The ceremony following Mass marked the incredible generosity of Sarullo, who bequeathed a large portion of his estate to St. Joseph parish in Greenville.
Sarullo was born in 1931 in Greenville and graduated from St. Joseph High School (formerly St. Rose of Lima) and attended Springhill College in Mobile. He was a lifelong resident of Greenville, where he was a well-respected and successful businessman, who was known for his integrity, generosity and involvement in the community. Passing in December 2018, Sarullo helped many in need during his 87 years.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz prayed with Sarullo many times during the last year of his life, calling him a “great man of faith.” During the event he lauded Sarullo as a remarkable example of Catholic generosity and challenged everyone to live up to his example and great works of charity in the community.
Since his passing, St. Joseph parish has worked hard to preserve the legacy of Sarullo’s gift, while embarking on multiple projects to spread the Good News of the Gospel and support those in need in the Greenville community.
During the dedication ceremony, that included a blessing of a projected photo of the “Touchdown Jesus” statue and plaque commemorating Sarullo due to the inclement weather, several shared the impact he made with his gift, as well as future plans to impact the Greenville community.
President of the St. Joseph parish finance council, Ken Purvis shared renovations completed at the church and those to come thanks to the gift made by Sarullo. He said that the parish approved plans for an extensive remodel and improvements to the interior of the Victorian-Gothic style church including the complete re-plastering of interior walls, artwork and murals painted throughout the sanctuary, including the ceiling. Purvis shared that future plans include extending and enlarging the altar to better accommodate service. The historic restoration project is set to commence in 2023 right after Easter.
Purvis told those gathered that the church has already completed a re-design of its sound system and that part of the Sarullo bequest helped match funds donated by parishioners to replace the slate tile roof in 2020.
Speaking on improvements to the St. Joseph parish hall, Jim Lipscomb, president of the parish pastoral council, started by thanking the diocese for all of the support given to the parish, even in tough times. “They’ve stuck with St. Joe School and St. Joe parish for many years,” said Lipscomb.
For the parish hall, Lipscomb said the renovation will expand the size with improvements like new LED lighting, HVAC system, sound system, projectors for presentations, furniture and more. Renovations also include a new kitchen with a cafeteria style serving line and top-of-the-line appliances and work stations.
“This new space will be a show-place for church meetings, sacrament classes, youth retreats, parish assemblies, wedding receptions and luncheons,” said Lipscomb.
Construction on the parish hall project has already commenced and should be completed early in 2023.
“I want to thank Salvador Sarullo for your generosity that has allowed us to create all of these different projects,” said Lipscomb.
One of the most significant ministries of St. Joseph parish is St. Joseph Catholic School said Britt Virden, emceeing the event. The gift from Sarullo will also provide a major expansion to the existing facility.
Athletic director, John Butler introduced the expansion project that includes the gym and athletic facilities. “We’ve established a standard of excellence in education and athletics,” said Butler. “We have set the bar for athletics and we want to continue to grow and to get better.”
Plans include building onto the back of the gym with new expanded locker rooms for boys and girls basketball, soccer, baseball and softball teams. The addition will feature a separate training and recovery room for athletes and school trainers, new bathrooms and ticket counter.
The gym entrance will also showcase past and current championships with more trophy cases for the Fighting Irish championship teams, said Butler. The newest being the MAIS 4A State Football Championship trophy the team claimed in mid-November.
The new athletic facilities will allow the school to host tournaments and generate revenue, said Butler. “We want folks to come see our school and what we do here.”
Virden said with the gift from Sarullo, St. Joseph School is also looking to grow. He shared that the school is starting an initial committee looking at an Early Learning Center for the community. “We are always looking to grow and expand our offerings, not only because it is important for our community – it’s important to the church, important for our faith,” said Virden.
“It’s important to have a place for parents to have their children come and transfer over into our schools.”
Speaking more on the project was Bart Outzen, who said the goal was to have a program that would sustain the student population and “prepare an intellectual, academically and spiritually prepared student all the way through to St. Joseph.” The center would be located adjacent to the existing school, and it would have a curriculum based upon national standards for early learning centers across the U.S., said Outzen.
Virden said with the Sarullo gift, they want to be good stewards have the gift continue to provide for improvements for “the next 125 years of more” by setting up trusts for St. Joseph School and St. Joseph Church with the Catholic Foundation, headed by Rebecca Harris.
Over 49 years ago, leaders across the diocese decided to establish the Catholic Foundation with the goal to encourage legacy giving through endowed funds and major gifts.
“Salvador Sarullo loved his Catholic faith and it was very near and dear to him,” said Harris. “He was extremely generous with his time, his talent and his treasure through the years.”
For the Catholic Foundation, the St. Joseph Catholic Parish trust is the largest parish trust; and the St. Joseph Catholic School trust is the largest trust to date thanks to Sarullo’s gift, said Harris.
“Each year Salvador’s legacy will continue to live on through the annual distributions provided to the parish school. Future generations will be blessed by his generosity.”
Another ministry that benefited from Sarullo’s legacy is the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Greenville. Thanks to his gift, they were able to completely restore and remodel their buildings.
“Our clients don’t only come to St. Vincent to receive food and clothes they also get a hug, a smile and we pray with them,” said volunteer, Julice Curry. “Mr. Sarullo knew that the poor, the underprivileged in our community need a ministry like St. Vincent de Paul.”
Curry shared that in 2000, Sarullo bought the four buildings the organization is housed in now and with his most recent gift they restored them. St. Vincent was able to restore the roof, repair windows and walls and create a more convenient entrance for clients, among other vital projects. The kitchen also received an upgrade to accommodate more food items for the hundreds of low-income clients served each week.
After the dedication ceremony, Bishop Kopacz traveled over to St. Vincent de Paul to view the improvements and bless the building.
“Certainly, it is with great joy that as we hear the words at the culmination of St. Matthew’s Gospel at the final judgement, that the work he talks about, and certainly demands, is being done here at St. Vincent de Paul – welcoming the stranger as we heard. Praying with them, feeding, clothing, giving drink – that’s just something woven into this ministry that is such a blessing,” said Bishop Kopacz.
The repairs to the buildings at St. Vincent de Paul were completed in August 2022. The board is planning on an open house soon and invites everyone to attend to see the improvements made possible by Sarullo’s generous bequest.
“Mr. Sarullo was amazing,” said Curry. “He was a very simple man. If you ever had the pleasure of meeting him, you know that he lived a very simple life but he loved big. He loved his church, he loved this school and he loved, loved St. Vincent de Paul.”