Monthly luncheons offer priests opportunity for fellowship, food

GOOSE CREEK — An occasion for priests to gather informally, break bread and catch up with what’s happening in Berkeley and Dorchester County parishes is a monthly highlight for about 20 Charleston area clerics.

Priests from Summerville, Goose Creek, North Charleston, Moncks Corner and Bonneau gather at Immaculate Conception Church monthly for fellowship and food in a gathering that is probably unique in the Diocese of Charleston, said Carol Faretra, parish secretary.

The tradition was begun over 10 years ago by Father Joseph J. Murphy, then pastor at Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan. Three or four priests would gather in his little kitchen in the rectory for lunch each week, said Father Frank Palmieri, Immaculate Conception pastor.

After Father Murphy’s retirement, the luncheon tradition was continued by Father Dave Schiller during his pastorate at St. Theresa the Little Flower Church in Summerville. During that time, the meals went from a once a week occurrence, to twice a month, and then, eventually, its current once a month status.

Following Father Schiller’s departure from St. Theresa’s, Father Palmieri then picked up the hosting mantle.

“It’s enjoyable to get together and spend some time together,” said the Immaculate Conception pastor. “It’s important to show them (the priests) that we appreciate the work they do.”

Father Theodore T. Cilwick, another retired pastor from Divine Redeemer in Hanahan, used one word to describe the monthly luncheons: “Fraternity.” The food is secondary, said Father Cilwick, compared to learning about what’s going on in the parishes.

The Goose Creek priest takes pride in these occasions, as is evidenced by the formal invitations that are sent out to invitees preceding each meal. Father Palmieri also handles the cooking chores in the kitchen, favoring a menu of pastas and shishkabobs.

His lone cooking holiday is Holy Thursday, when a formal luncheon is prepared by a master chef who is a parishioner at Immaculate Conception. This year, lamb was the main course served to the visiting clerics.

“Holy Thursday is the feast day of priests, when they celebrate the priesthood,” said Father Palmieri. “It’s a special day to me.”

“It’s the day when Jesus met with his apostles,” said Father Cilwick. “We celebrate it with a wonderful dinner.” He continued, “I just wish it would happen more often.”