Celebrating 50 years: Father Powers

The Miscellany profiles the three priests who will celebrate this year the 50th anniversary of their ordination to the priesthood: Rev. Jerome C. Powers, Rev. Msgr. J. Fleming McManus and Rev. Msgr. John A. Simonin

Rev. Jerome C. Powers

In March, Pope John Paul urged priests to say the words of the consecration as if each time were the very first time and, with a half century of priestly ministry, Father Jerome C. Powers does just that.

The priesthood as “a source of great joy” is a recurring theme for the 79-year-old priest who celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ordination this year.

Father Powers retired just a few years ago. He keeps his own schedule, more or less, but says “there’s always something to do.” He celebrates Mass daily in his Camden home, helps out with services at Our Lady of Perpetual Help on weekends, which will also honor him with a jubilee Mass of his own at noon on May 24, while still visiting people who are sick or in hospital. In short, he is actively retired.

When asked what stands out when looking back over his years serving Christ and his people, he has a simple answer.

“The sheer joy of the priesthood. Celebrating Mass and helping to bring God’s grace to his people,” Father Powers said. Indeed, his advice to a young man considering priesthood is similar, “Understand the sheer joy of being a priest and sharing in the priesthood as a minister of church,” he said.

He describes himself as “a priest of the church.” What makes Father Powers even more distinctive is that he is a convert. The youngest of seven children, Father Powers was born into the Baptist faith. He found Catholicism during the Depression-era in his early 20s. He had been out of high school five years and was doing bookkeeping and clerical work when the religion found its way into his sights.

“I just realized that the Baptist religion was not for me,” he explained. ” I went to various churches near where I lived. At the time, there was a lot of publicity with the establishment of Providence Hospital which called the Catholic faith to my attention. I was very much attracted to it. I liked what I learned and was convinced that what I learned was true.”

A few of his friends were Catholic but most thought his conversion was “a curious thing. At first, his family was hesitant, but they accepted it as what he wanted. “My father had died and my mother was still alive,” he said. “She wasn’t exactly pleased but she was supportive.”

Later, when he became a priest, his mother was very proud. His decision to join the priesthood was made several years after his acceptance into St. Peter’s Church in Columbia. By 1940, he had made his mind up that was what he was going to do it, thanks in part to some friendly persuasion.

“Msgr. (Donald) Hamburger was almost a neighbor of mine when I lived in Columbia and Father Allan Jeffords was there too,” he explained. “I was a new convert, working there and in the autumn of 1939 both started studying for the priesthood and encouraged me to do likewise.”

He recalled having to be tutored in Latin. “But I cottoned to it quite well,” he said. That is perhaps why he so admires his patron saint, St. Jerome; “he did quite a tremendous job of translating the scriptures to Latin.”

Father Powers graduated from Belmont Abbey in 1944 and went to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. He was ordained in 1947. The young priest’s first assignment was at St. Patrick’s Church in Charleston. Between 1947 and 1956, Father Powers was also an associate at St. Joseph’s Church in Charleston, back to St. Patrick’s and on to St. John’s in Charleston Heights. He was also a faculty member at Bishop England High School in Charleston during those years where he taught shorthand, typewriting and bookkeeping.

“At first I didn’t like it but it was the job I was assigned to but I got to like it very well,” he remembered. “I enjoyed working with young people and feeling that I was preparing them for adulthood — and, at the same time, helping them get a better appreciation of their faith.”

In 1956, he was given the task of establishing a new parish, Divine Redeemer in Hanahan. He was pastor of that church until 1972. The devoted priest went on to become pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Camden until 1978, then to St. Augustine in Union for six years and, finally, Our Lady of the Valley in Gloverville in 1984. Now he has the enjoyment of going back to parishes and seeing many familiar faces.

Over the fruitful decades of his vocation, one of the most positive changes Father Powers said he has seen in the church is the increase of the laity’s active participation in the liturgy. He views all changes and events as guided by his faith, however.

“The Lord is not going to forsake his church,” he said. “I will leave that in his hands and try to do what I can to help it along. The most important thing for all of us is to have an awareness of God’s presence with us and try to live accordingly.”

He celebrates his anniversary with two of his peers since seminary: Msgr. J. Fleming McManus, retired from Blessed Sacrament in Charleston, and Msgr. John A. Simonin, pastor of St. Mary’s in Charleston. “We’ve remained friends. We’ve all just gotten older and more mature,” was all he would say of his longtime friends.

He also credits Father Thomas Mackin, pastor and his predecessor at St. Joseph Church, as being one of his influences.

From his admirable years of experience with his faith and the spirituality of his parishioners, Father Powers would offer the following advice to any Catholic:

“We have one faith given to us by Christ,” he said. “That faith is the way to make our life worthwhile so that we gain the indescribable joys of heaven when our work is done. If we miss that faith, we miss the whole thing.”