Father McCaffrey redefines retirement

COLUMBIA — Father Edmund McCaffrey, Ph.D., has been a Benedictine monk, political science professor who founded and headed the Political Science Department at Belmont Abbey College, visiting professor, writer, Abbot ordinary of the Belmont Abbey monastery and pastor.

He continues to wears the hats of lecturer, pilgrimage leader, organization director, spiritual director, and retreat master. In each of his assignments, he has made his faith his foundation, and for that reason most of his initiatives still stand today.

In January, the priest retired from being pastor of Holy Family Church in Hilton Head. For Father McCaffrey retirement certainly has not meant slowing down. Even while recovering from an injury to his Achilles heel, he remained on the go with a smile on his face and his appointment book on hand.

His calendar for 2003 is filling quickly with retreats, speeches, and conferences. He has already been booked for two Lenten retreats and recently was a keynote speaker for an anniversary celebration in Charlotte, N.C.

In addition, he is planning a regional gathering in Tampa for the Institute on Religious Life (IRL), an organization that he, Father John Hardon, Bishop James Hogan and William Isaacson co-founded.

He started the organization when he was Abbot Ordinary of Belmont Abbey Monastery in North Carolina.

“We wanted to preserve the gift of consecrated life as envisioned by Vatican II, which not only included religious but the laity, too,” said the priest, who pointed out that vocations come from families

This April, Father McCaffrey will be attending the IRL’s national meeting in Chicago, where he will receive the institute’s 2003 Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award for manifesting “notable support and promotion of the consecrated life.” Other recipients of the award have been Mother Teresa, Father Hardon, Virgil Dechant and Cardinal James Hickey.

In 1990 two men, Bill Smith and Jim Likoudis, approached Fathers McCaffrey and Hardon at an IRL conference. They asked the priests if they would like to co-found Eternal Life, a Catholic pro-life organization that would focus more on the educational aspect of pro-life work.

The volunteer-based group still distributes books, tapes and CDs on topics of Catholic morality especially where it applies to respect and openness to life. In the first few years, they held more than 20 “Make a Moral Miracle Happen Conferences” all over the country.

Father McCaffrey was a favorite speaker, because he “had an amazing ability to take a subject and make it interesting” according to co-founder Smith who still volunteers for the organization.

“He is a special priest, raised up to serve us during these tumultuous times, and he will always be in demand as long as his health allows, and from the looks of it, he will be with us for a long time,” said Smith.

Others recognize the name Father McCaffrey as a faithful pilgrim of Fatima, Portugal, where he has taken an annual trip to “this place of spiritual healing” for 18 years. With each trip he brings as many seminarians as possible.

“It does the laity good to meet such fine young men, and the seminarians benefit from the support of the laity,” he said.

To the young seminarians as well as the newly ordained, Father McCaffrey offers this advice that has been helpful to him throughout the years, “Stay close to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Mother. If you want to be holy say the rosary and go to confession regularly. Also be attentive to the Holy Father, listen to what he says because he is the Vicar of Christ and one of the greatest popes in the history of the church.”

Father McCaffrey could not pin point just one person who influenced his vocation. Certainly his parents and their strong commitment to Catholic education provided him with good role models from elementary school through college. It was in these Catholic institutions that he developed a love of God, a love of learning and a love of teaching.

Since he came to the diocese he has made a mark in South Carolina as a pastor at St. Michael Church in Garden City (a parish he helped start), Divine Redeemer in Hanahan and Holy Family in Hilton Head.

Today as a retiree, Father McCaffrey finds himself once again a trailblazer, who will test the boundaries and possibly redefine what it means to be a retired priest.

Interested in having Father McCaffrey visit your parish?

If you would like to have Father McCaffrey speak at your church, you can contact him at P.O. Box 70548 Myrtle Beach, SC 29572.