Msgr. Duffy, activist for social justice, dies at 71

CHARLESTON — Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City, died Sept. 25. He was 71.

Msgr. Duffy was born on Nov. 1, 1932, in Charleston. He was the son of the late John J. Duffy and Mary McMahon Duffy.

He attended Cathedral and Sacred Heart elementary schools and Bishop England High School in Charleston. He attended the seminary at St. Charles in Catonsville, Md., St. Mary in Baltimore, Md. and Theological College at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 17, 1958, by Bishop John J. Russell at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. He was named monsignor on March 6, 1983.

During his 46 years of ministry, Msgr. Duffy served as associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston and at Stella Maris Church on Sullivan’s Island. He was administrator at St. Mary Parish, Our Lady of Mercy Parish and the Cathedral in Charleston. He served as pastor at Sacred Heart Church and Our Lady of Mercy Church in Charleston, St. Joseph Church in Columbia, St. Anthony Church in Florence and St. Michael Church in Garden City.

In addition to parish work, Msgr. Duffy served as assistant director and director of Cath-olic Charities, vicar general, moderator of the Curia, state chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, chancellor, director of the permanent deacon program, deanery director of the Catholic Youth Organization for the Charleston Deanery, and dean of the Pee Dee Deanery. He was also a member of the diocesan Personnel Committee, Priest Personnel Board, Presbyteral Council, editorial staff of the Catholic Banner, Curia, Ecumenical Commission, College of Consultors, Priests’ Senate, and Bishop England High School Board.

Msgr. Duffy is survived by two brothers and two sisters: Dr. John J. Duffy of Columbia; Jeremiah B. Duffy of Valparaiso, Fla.; Ann Mitchum of Charleston; and Patricia DiBiase of Jacksonville, Fla.

A vigil Mass was held at noon Sept. 29 at St. Michael Church in Garden City. The Mass of Christian Burial will be at 11 a.m. Oct. 1 in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Burial will be at Holy Cross Cemetery on James Island.

In his homily at the vigil Mass at St. Michael Church, Msgr. James A. Carter said that Msgr. Duffy’s voice has been silenced, but his words and deeds as an advocate for the poor, the downtrodden and rejected will continue to echo where there is injustice, neglect and a lack of respect for life.

“The outspoken opponent to the death penalty and war is at peace,” he said.

As a reflection of Msgr. Duffy’s sense of humor, Msgr. Carter said that “if there was ever anyone ready and prepared to die, it was Tom Duffy. Time and again, he would say he had the ticket but no date. Saturday, he received the date.

“Msgr. Duffy cried out in the name of social justice. And he didn’t let up. He interpreted the memory and life of Jesus Christ in terms of justice and rights. It was the theme of his priesthood from the very beginning.”

The priest’s friend described him as a social activist who promoted integration in a segregated society, joined hands and walked in the poor people’s march, was a lobbyist for the rights of hospital workers, a friend and advocate for the victims on death row. He preached the sanctity of life for the unborn and the evils of war.

“Like Christ himself, and in Jesus’ image, Tom was a person of principle, conviction and ideals, and because of this he endured many battle scars and took a lot of criticism,” he said.

“His good deeds and actions will never be forgotten,” he said. “Many by chance are crowned as kings that are born rather to be tinkers, or farmers or philosophers or farriers or anything under God than to be kings. Whether Tom Duffy willed it or not, he was a king. He is one of the time-sifted few who have left this world not the same place that it was, and he has marked what he left.”

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice of Charleston, 3870 Leeds Avenue, North Charleston, SC, 29405; Catholic Charities, 1662 Ingram Road, Charleston, SC, 29407; or St. Michael School, 572 Cypress Ave., Garden City, SC 29576.