Deacon spends a lifetime in service to others


CHARLESTON — This past Tuesday, Samuel Elvis Hanvey observed his silver jubilee as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Charleston, celebrating a life devoted to giving of time, talent, and treasure to causes near and dear to his heart. The walls of the family home on Gibbes Street can’t accommodate all the plaques and awards he has received over the decades for his efforts.

Born Oct. 23, 1918, in Oconee County, the son of William D. and Eugenia C. Hanvey, Sam Hanvey grew up in Greenville and received his education in public schools. In January 1941, he was ordered as an Army reservist to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, where he met Harriette P. O’Neill, the daughter of Henry J. and Adelaide P. O’Neill. The two were married on July 25, 1942, and subsequently had a son Philip, and a daughter, Janice.

Hanvey received an Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army with the rank of major in 1953, after serving with the Third and Seventh Armies during World War II in anti-aircraft artillery. He then entered The Citadel and earned a degree in business administration. After graduation, he worked with a family-owned radio station (WHAN) and later was employed at his father-in-law’s insurance agency, Heyward and O’Neill. The firm was formed in 1909 by DuBose Heyward, best known as the author of “Porgy and Bess,” and Henry O’Neill.

Hanvey purchased the agency in 1951 and operated it until 1988, when he sold the business. During his tenure there the firm became one of the Holy City’s largest insurance agencies.

Hanvey was a convert to the Catholic Church, and he received the sacrament of confirmation from Bishop Emmitt M. Walsh at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on March 1, 1944. In the following years, he served the diocese on a number of committees, including finance, building, and insurance.

At the request of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, Hanvey served 17 years as a member of the Board of Directors of St. Francis Xavier Hospital, including terms as vice chairman and nine years as chairman of the board. It was during this time that the hospital grew from a 156-bed to a 362-bed facility, built the 12-story Rutledge Avenue Tower, and a 733-car parking garage.

In October 1971, Bishop Ernest Unterkoeffler asked Hanvey to enter studies for the newly re-established diaconate program. Hanvey said he believes the bishop was impressed with the work he did in helping to organize a national ecumenical meeting at the Francis Marion Hotel. That sparked the invitation to ministry.

During a visit to Charleston in the mid-’70s, then-Bishop James Hickey, at the time rector of the North American College in Rome, asked Hanvey to speak to Pope Paul VI about the diaconate, and a meeting was arranged for Feb. 26, 1976.

“Harriette and I were introduced to His Holiness and did speak very briefly to him,” said Hanvey. “At that time Harriette and I were given his blessing. We were also invited as honored guests to All Souls Mass in the Sistine Chapel, celebrated by His Holiness and a number of cardinals.”

Photographs from the audience are proudly on display in the Hanvey’s living room.

Shortly thereafter, on May 15, 1976, Hanvey was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop Unterkoeffler and assigned to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. During the 25 succeeding years the deacon has carried out a number of liturgical and secular assignments. He cited, however, his service of Communion outside of Mass to Cathedral members in area nursing homes and hospitals as a primary duty.

As the Catholic representative on the Charleston Ministerial Council, Hanvey regularly delivered the opening prayer to the U.S. District Court. He also served diocesan assignments in the Tribunal as procurator and advocate and helped in the design of promotional material used for the Diocesan Development Fund. In addition, Hanvey served for many years as a board member representing the diocese on the Charleston Home for Children.

The most hours of service, however, have been devoted in his capacity as diocesan director of Scouting. During his tenure thousands of medals for religious awards programs have been issued to pastors for presentation to Scouts who are members of units sponsored by a parish or other chartered group.

The deacon was recognized for 70 years of membership in the Boy Scouts of America at a presentation last October. He has received most every award given by the organization, including the Eagle Scout, Silver Beaver, Distinguished Eagle, and Lifetime Regent.

Hanvey has also been generous to the Scouts with his pocketbook as well. He and his wife donated funds to the Coastal Carolina Council Boys Scouts of America to construct a nondenominational chapel at Camp Ho-Non-Wah. The building was dedicated in 1990 by Bishop David B. Thompson, with participation of representatives from the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Jewish faiths. A plaque on the facility recognizes Hanvey was “a servant of God and mankind.”

The Hanveys have also contributed financially to their home parish, the Cathedral. For the building’s 1995 restoration, they funded the restoration and perpetual care of the Mary Chapel, for which it was inscribed in the name of Harriette O’Neill Hanvey. This is adjacent to the Nativity stained-glass window, which was given by her grandfather.

The deacon and his wife also provide assistance to the Philip O’Neill Hanvey Scholarship Fund, as established by the Kiwanis Club of Charleston. The couple’s son lost his life in a tragic boating-related accident in 1962, and the Hanvey’s established numerous memorials, scholarships, and annual awards to recognize his exemplary qualities, explained the proud father.

Their daughter, Janice, completed The Citadel’s graduate program in clinical counseling and is in private practice in the Lowcountry. A granddaughter, Gentry, graduated from Bishop England High School and is now a rising senior at college in Durango, Colo.

At age 82, Hanvey said he would continue to perform to the best of his ability his responsibilities in the diaconate, “with the hope for their acceptability as humble and sincere efforts expected by God.”