Diocesan chancellor Cleo Cantey, 68, dies


CHARLESTON — Cleo Elizabeth Cantey, chancellor for administration for the Diocese of Charleston, died of a heart attack Jan. 11 at Roper Hospital. She had been in the facility following a stroke suffered at her Mount Pleasant residence in December.

A wake and vigil service was held Jan. 13 at McAlister-Smith Funeral Home, and a Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Jan. 14 by Bishop Robert J. Baker at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.

Msgr. Charles Rowland, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Columbia, worked closely with Cantey when he also served as a chancellor of the Diocese under Bishop Ernest Unterkoefler. He was the homilist at the service. Burial followed at St. Lawrence Cemetery.

Cantey was born in Charleston on Sept. 24, 1933, to Joseph Samuel Cantey and Cleo E. Purse Cantey. She was baptized on Oct. 15, 1933, at St. Mary Church on Hasell Street.

A 1951 graduate of the High School of Charleston, Cantey entered the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1954, and after 10 years of service in various administrative capacities, received an honorable discharge with the rank of sergeant.

On Feb. 11, 1965, Cantey began working with the Diocese of Charleston as a secretary in the Chancery, eventually rising to the position of office manager. In May 1987, Bishop Unterkoefler named her chancellor for administration, marking the first time in the history of the diocese that someone other than a priest served in that capacity.

As chancellor, Cantey was a notary and an archivist for the diocese, ensuring the orderly maintenance and safekeeping of papers and documents related to the work of the diocesan curia. She also arranged and recorded the correspondence related to requests for marriage dispensations. As a notary, Cantey authenticated official acts of diocesan administration. She managed the office, handled the phones, prepared mailings for the diocesan “Caritas” newsletter, made travel arrangements for church officials, administered the diocesan filing system, contributed to the annual diocesan directory, and coordinated the preparing of the quinquennial report to the Holy See.

In 1991 Cantey received the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” papal medal. The honor, which in Latin means “for the church and the pontiff,” is given in recognition for outstanding service to the church and the pope. The award was designated by Pope John Paul II and was presented by Bishop David B. Thompson at a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist that October.

In his homily at the funeral Mass, Msgr. Rowland said, “Cleo never married. She was married to the Diocese of Charleston. I do not believe we could find a more dedicated layperson to the diocese. Cleo set about her tasks very diligently.”

The monsignor talked of finding Cantey at her desk every weekend, going about the work of assisting the clergy and laity in any way she could. “She had a heart guided by the principles of Jesus Christ. She gave what she had to the needy. Cleo thought of others before herself.”

Then, in a moment of levity, Msgr. Rowland recalled how Cantey was a woman of few words. “Some were quite direct,” he said, smiling. “She spoke her mind. You knew where she stood.”

The former vicar general then recounted a conversation he had with Cantey close to 30 years ago in the Chancery offices, in which she left a few instructions to be followed upon her death. “Tell them I always tried to do my best. And to my friends and my family, tell them I loved them all.”

Said Msgr. Rowland, “We thank God for sharing Cleo with the diocese.”

In closing remarks, Bishop Baker spoke of Cantey’s example of Christian service to the church. “Even in her last days, she wanted to be here. She was so devoted to the diocese. Cleo was determined not to retire, and she never did.”

The bishop then praised Cantey’s honesty, humility, and patience. “Pray that she can enjoy the fruits of eternal life with the Lord, the bishops, priests, and lay people she served all these years,” he said.

Messages of condolence may be sent to Mr. And Mrs. Joseph S. Cantey (Jodie), 1451 Simmons St., Mount Pleasant, SC 29464; and Mrs. And Mrs. John R. Cantey (Jack), 1464 Allen St., Mount Pleasant, SC 29464.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Bishop England Endowment Fund, 363 Seven Farms Dr., Daniel Island, SC 29492, or to the St. Joseph Residence, Priest Retirement Fund, P.O. Box 300, Charleston, SC 29402.