Dear Friends in Christ,
Twenty-five years ago this Tuesday, it was so hot and humid in Charleston that walking from your car to the church was like going for a swim. But that made the day only more memorable! I had been preparing for that day for years, and at last all was ready. Bishop David Thompson ordained Father Timothy Lijewski and me to the priesthood for the Diocese of Charleston on 10 July 1993, and we began our life’s work.
For me that meant going back to Rome for one more year to complete my degree in canon law at the Gregorian University, so my first year as a priest was spent in the Eternal City, celebrating Mass in the great basilicas and in the chapels of the Pontifical North American College where I was in residence. The NAC is the American seminary in Rome, and my five years there were a blessing beyond all telling.
When I returned to the diocese in the Summer of 1994, my first assignment was to be Catholic chaplain to The Citadel, and no better beginning to my ministry could have been found. But that was the moment when the declining number of priests in the diocese required the realignment of our ministries, and so I was the last full-time Catholic chaplain at The Citadel. For one year I served as pastor of St Mark’s, Newberry and St Boniface, Joanna, and then for four years I was pastor of Divine Redeemer, Hanahan. In my final year there, Robert Baker became the Bishop of Charleston, and he had a long connection to a seminary in Columbus, Ohio that is both an undergraduate college and a graduate school of theology. So I was sent to the Pontifical College Josephinum to serve as professor of canon law and dean of men for the undergraduate seminarians. That assignment was meant to last for several years, but in the first few months after I left for Ohio, our diocesan presbyterate was shaken by the resignation from ministry of two priests and the sudden deaths of three priests, including our finest young priest who died in a car accident at age 31 on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The tragic death of Father Scott Buchanan, a close friend of mine, was a severe loss to the diocese, but it also changed the course of my life because it led to Bishop Baker’s decision to send me to St Mary’s.
And so I arrived here to begin my service as the sixteenth pastor of St Mary’s on 28 June 2001, and those who were here at the time will recall that I said at my installation that I expected this to be my last assignment. Given my peripatetic history to that time, skepticism about that claim was to be expected, but seventeen years later, here I am. It is said that if you want to make God laugh, you should tell him your plans, and that is doubly true of priests who do not decide where they live and work. But if I have a full span of years, I expect that you will be invited to my retirement party on 10 July 2038, the 45th anniversary of my ordination and the end of 37 years of service to St Mary’s! For now, however, please join me today at 5 pm for Vespers and a reception in Gallivan Hall as I give thanks to God for these 25 years of priestly ministry.