By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON – Open the gate and he is off and running Robert J. Sayer is ready to be a priest.
“I just want to hurry up and get there, I’ve waited a long time,” said the newly graduated seminarian who doesn’t stand on ceremony. Although, he can’t wait for the one June 26 where, forever after, he will be known as Father Bob.
“I want to start,” he said. “I am going to hit the ground running.”
His impatient enthusiasm, withstanding seven years of seminary, has been in check since he was a dedicated altar boy of 10 or 11. He felt comfortable on that side of the Mass and knew he wanted to be doing more than just handing the priest the water and wine. He wanted it to be handed to him to partake in that precious gift celebration of the sacraments.
“I couldn’t ever sit out in a pew during Mass and look up at the altar and not feel that’s where I needed to be,” he asserted.
After graduating from high school, seminary was out of reach financially, and the world at large beckoned. “The timing just wasn’t right,” Sayer said. “I also don’t know if I could have handled it at 19.”
He worked at Charleston Air Force Base library and went to school at Trident Tech. Making use of his love of photography and art, Sayer got an associate’s degree in commercial art. Through contacts in the Catholic Youth Organization he was hired at Bobbin Magazine, a trade publication for the apparel industry, in Columbia. He worked in public relations and research for five years before moving back to Charleston and getting a job as national marketing manager for Blackbaud.
Sayer’s father, Douglas, was a supply chief in the Navy. His mother, Carol, and his younger brother and two sisters moved many times before they settled in Charleston. He was born in Watertown, N.Y.
Like most military brats, he learned an adaptability that comes with picking up and moving every three or so years; an ability that will come in handy as a diocesan priest.
“It enables you to adapt well to almost any situation,” he said of military family life. “You gain friends easily, you have to. A priest needs to be able to shift gears quickly. Like Paul said, our job is to be all things to all people. You’ve got to be there for everybody. There is not just one aspect to this job. You’ve got to be a general practitioner, not so much a specialist.”
A cigar chomping outdoorsman, Sayer is someone who generally voices his opinion. He believes in throwing himself on his sword when he deems the circumstance worthy and accepts that there is a price to be paid in whatever task he undertakes.
“I knew eventually I would go into seminary and worked to be debt free,” he said.
He was let go from Blackbaud one payment short of paying off his car. “That kind of shows God’s sense of humor. There I was, debt free, no job, the time was right.”
He called the chancery offices and spoke to the vocations director.
“Everything fell into place,” the soon-to-be priest said.
Independent yet sporting a ready sense of humor, combined with a strong work ethic translates into a willingness to put in the hours and meet the demands. Sayer admires priests like Father David Schiller and Father St. John Patat, both are retired but continued to answer the call of the Church well beyond normal expectations.
“Not a lot of guys retire, most die in the job,” Sayer reflected. “I admire that. We’re called to this job to work.”
His parents were concerned about his dedication at the beginning, especially because he had a tendency to do and say as he thought. “But everybody who knows me knows that this is what I wanted to do for years,” he said. “They have been nothing but supportive.”
Sayer has learned a healthy respect for the tradition of the Church at St. Charles Borromeo.
“The practice of the Church today is not the practice of the Church in the first century,” he explained. “This is the living body of Christ. It has to continue to grow, if it doesn’t it atrophies. It continues to hold on to the doctrine and dogma that makes it the Catholic Church. I don’t care if the priest is wearing a 12th century fiddleback (an extremely ornate cassock), or a sackcloth with a peace sign, as long as he is celebrating the Mass the way the Church says and celebrating Communion.”
He has respect for tradition while looking toward the future.
When he is not immersed in his priestly preparation, the transitional deacon enjoys hiking, canoeing, and camping. He is easily spotted in his beat up old pickup truck with his canoe on the top wearing his white collar on the way to Mass.
“I am independent but not a loner,” he said. “I am not your average vocations poster seminarian. I am the average guy.”
As a seminarian, average or not, he’s had to work for The Catholic Miscellany as an intern, in large and small parishes, hospitals, prisons, and teaching. He’s eager to put the administrative and people skills he gathered to good use.
“Priests aren’t handed out of heaven in full vestment,” he said. “They are normal guys who just happened to be called to this line of work. If God only called the holiest of the holies, we wouldn’t have too many priests.”
On June 26, Father Bob Sayer crosses the finish line and starts anew.