By PAUL A. BARRA
GLOVERVILLE — All Vincentians are supposed to celebrate the feast of their founder, St. Vincent de Paul, each year. The occasion at Our Lady of the Valley Parish had special overtones in 1999.
“We celebrate St. Vincent’s vision of serving the poor,” said Sister Nancy Murphy, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. “The Daughters were the first women’s congregation not cloistered. Vincent saw the need to get us out of the convent to fulfill our ministries.”
Fourteen Daughters from three states gathered at OLV for a special Mass on Sept. 25. Five are living in community in Gloverville; they are Sisters Patricia Lucchesi, Mary Pavonarius, Maureen Houlihan, Jane Marie Otterson and Nancy Murphy. They serve the parish as lectors and in other liturgical roles and as teachers in the parish school of religion, but their main ministry is to the poor people of the area. The founder feast affair was also an opportunity to visit for the other Daughters from Macon, Ga., Fayetteville, N.C., and Georgetown.
Lay members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society also made the trek to Aiken County for the anniversary event, but for many of the participants in the Saturday morning liturgy, the day was another chance to celebrate their own special Vincentian – Father John Lawlor.
“He is one of the finest people I have ever met. It’s an understatement to say that he represents St. Vincent,” said parishioner and pastoral council member James Smith.
Smith’s opinion seems to be universal at Our Lady of the Valley. Since coming to the small faith community four years ago, Father Lawlor has revitalized the parish. And this from a man who has already lived for eight decades.
“This (the Mass and feast) was father’s idea,” said parishioner Brigitte Wilson. “He wanted to do something special this year.”
The ladies of Our Lady of the Valley arranged to make that special nature part of the celebration. They put on a huge feast in a decorated parish hall, as befits a parish that has risen from the ashes of ennui.
“Father Lawlor has brought this valley together. It was falling apart, and he got us back together,” said Mary Purvis, in between trips to the kitchen to replenish the delicacies and sweets.
The Vincentian is the sacramental priest at the parish. That’s what he volunteered to do when he retired, according to Deacon Robert J. “Bob” Waters, the pastoral administrator. Father Lawlor used to be the spiritual director of Vincentians in the Diocese of Charleston before he came to OLV. “He is such a spiritual person,” Deacon Waters said. “His humbleness and caringness attracts people, and this is how he decided to spend his retirement, serving the poor.”
That was the theme of the priest’s homily at the St. Vincent de Paul Day Mass. After Deacon Waters proclaimed the Gospel of the beatitudes, Father Lawlor said that those words of Jesus turned everything upside down:
“The Lord was a revolutionary. Christ, who created all the beauty in the world, came to it in poverty. He lived with the poor, the poor in wealth and the spiritually poor. This is the work given to you as Vincentians, as members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“St. Vincent said to do three things, to make God known to the poor, to announce Jesus Christ to them and to let them know that the kingdom of God is at hand – and that it’s theirs. It’s what members of the Vincentian family do.”
The Vincentian Mass was concelebrated by Father Peter Clarke, pastor of St. Michael’s in Murphy Village and a former pastor of Our Lady of the Valley.