By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — Father Robert Fix loves the quote, “A priest forever.” As he begins his transition from serving God as pastor of Our Lady of the Hills in Columbia to serving him in his retirement residing at St. Joseph rectory in Columbia, he is determined more than ever to make this his motto. (Read more about how you can help our retired priests.)
In his last assignment as pastor at Our Lady of the Hills, he spent 11 years making a profound mark. During that time he led the renovation of the church and began the process for building a parish life center to support the growth in people and ministries.
Father Fix was born in Red Bank, N.J., one of five children. At age 16, the young Fix found himself in Colorado Springs, Colo., thanks to the transfer of his father, a high-ranking military officer. The teen-ager loved roller-skating and ice-skating; so he gravitated to Broadmoor Ice Palace, a famous ice-skating rink where he could watch, practice and learn from professional ice skaters who practiced there. Soon through hard work and dedication, he became a famous professional skater himself with his own billing for shows.
But World War II changed his life. After graduating from high school, the young man felt the call to serve his country. The 18-year-old enlisted in the Navy and made the rank of a third class aviation electrician’s mate in a short time. He was stationed on the aircraft carrier Randolph CV15. It was during his six-month tour of duty on the carrier that he first began to seriously contemplate the priesthood. Thanks to a wonderful priest and role model on the carrier, Fix began going to daily Mass. The combination of Mass and night watch gave him the time and quiet he needed to contemplate God’s will.
“On watch as I was gazing at the moon, I would think about the meaning of life,” recalled Father Fix. “I thought of God’s eternity and how our lives here are so brief. I wondered what God had in mind for us all.”
While stationed at Jacksonville, Fla., he also stood many security watches, again providing opportunities for deep reflection and prayer. He remembered finding some devotional pamphlets at a local church and reading them with great interest, especially one on the Blessed Mother.
“I remember reading about how priests can bring souls to heaven, and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” said Father Fix, who maintains this deep yearning today. “Being a priest is not like a secular job, where you retire and walk away from your profession. It is a lifelong vocation, like fatherhood and motherhood. It doesn’t go away, and you never lose your love for it.”
His first impulse was to join the Maryknoll Fathers and become a missionary, preaching where there was the greatest need. But the seminary was overcrowded, and they sent him to the Crosier school in Minnesota. Fix was so impressed with their way of life, drawn to their striking red and white cross habit, that he decided to join the community.
The young priest excelled quickly as he seemed to do in everything. He graduated from college and went on to receive a master’s degree in liturgy. In the community, he taught high school and later taught in the seminary. He also became the editor of the Crosier Magazine and did some editorial work for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.
After 20 years of service with Crosiers, Father Fix found that his love for sacramental ministry was growing; yet within the monastic life, opportunities for weddings, baptisms and the like were few. Since he desired to work directly with people in parish life, he began to investigate becoming a diocesan priest.
Through the encouragement of one of his best friends from the seminary, the late Father Robert Millard, who was a diocesan priest in Charleston, Father Fix came to South Carolina. He made the move to the diocese in 1973 and held several positions before his assignment to Our Lady of the Hills. Some of his jobs included being the head of the religious department for two years at Bishop England High School in Charleston followed by an assignment as pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Mauldin for six years. He then went to Immaculate Conception in Goose Creek where he stayed only a short time because of some health problems. He was moved to Columbia and served four years as pastor at St. John Neumann. From 1988-1990 he served at Our Lady of Lourdes in Greenwood and finally came to Our Lady of the Hills in 1990 where he was pastor until his retirement June 28.
This is one reason why he doesn’t like to say he’s retired.
“Retirement for a priest is not the appropriate word,” he said. “A mother can’t retire; she’s always a mother. Can a priest retire with dignity? No, because a priest cannot retire at all. His ministries may change, and his functions may change, but he’ll always be a priest.”
Being a priest is my life,” said Father Fix, “and I don’t want to be thrown out like an old shoe.”
Those close to Father Fix realize that he will not sit idle. He will move quietly throughout the Midlands healing and providing comfort wherever he is asked and however he is able. He does this not for any other reason but for a single purpose in life, one he vowed to pursue as a consecrated man — to love and serve God and neighbor.