By SHEILA OJENDYK
GREER – Blessed Trinity Church in Greer got two for the price of one when it hired Deacon Lowell O’Grady to be pastoral administrator. Deacon Lowell’s wife, Emilia, is equally committed to a life of ministry and possesses similar credentials. The O’Gradys came to Blessed Trinity from Cape Coral, Fla., a week before former pastor Father Nicholas Bayard retired. Father Bayard now resides at Church of the Nativity on James Island.
Claretian Father Santiago Avila Mora serves Blessed Trinity as its sacramental priest and says one Mass in English and one Mass in Spanish each weekend. Deacon Lowell tends to the administrative duties of this bilingual parish and works with the English-speaking parishioners, while Emilia ministers to the Hispanic community. Emilia was unable to be present for the interview.
Lowell, who was born in Grand Forks, N.D., says he always felt like he had a calling. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and immediately joined the Peace Corps. He met Emilia, a science teacher, while preparing for assignment in Brazil. Both O’Gradys speak Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish.
The O’Gradys spent three and a half years in the Peace Corps. While Lowell was developing electrification cooperatives, Emilia was working in health education. The typical Peace Corps commitment is two years, but the O’Gradys were asked to stay on and agreed to do so. Their 29-year-old son, Julian, was born in Brazil and now lives in Cape Coral, Fla.
After the O’Gradys returned to the United States, Lowell got a master’s degree in civil engineering at Georgia Tech. Emilia taught sciences at the high school level, and Lowell went to work for the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission. In his off hours, he participated in community action programs at the grassroots level.
The couple moved to Colorado, where they stayed for two years, and then moved to Florida in 1980. Lowell began studying to become a deacon, which is a five-year program through the School of Lay Ministry in the Diocese of Venice. Emilia studied along with him and took many of the same classes. Lowell was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1994.
Not long after his ordination, Emilia began volunteering for Catholic Charities, which soon became a second, albeit unpaid, job for both of them. Their experiences at a mission in Mexico and Guatemala not long after Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America were life-changing, and both O’Gradys realized that their hearts were not in their day jobs. They attended a retreat for deacon couples where Msgr. Joseph R. Roth, retreat master and pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Myrtle Beach, suggested that they look for a ministry in South Carolina. Both took early retirement to pursue their goal of working for the Church. They interviewed together this past March and arrived at Blessed Trinity on May 15.
The O’Gradys have nothing but praise for Blessed Trinity. Deacon Lowell describes Blessed Trinity as a young parish with a lot of energy. He is progressing with the parish master plan that Father Bayard started. The first project is an education building, and parishioners have already raised 50 percent of the money to pay for it. Deacon Lowell hopes that parishioners can participate as much as possible in the actual construction of the building, a practice that is common in South America.
The O’Gradys are enjoying the challenge of providing religious education to a bilingual parish. Younger Hispanic children are taught in English, but the O’Gradys are looking for texts and workbooks in Spanish, so the parents can keep apprised of their children’s progress.
Deacon Lowell hopes to add more ministries at Blessed Trinity, and the parish council is beginning a needs assessment in keeping with diocesan synod recommendations.