BY BROOKSI HUDSON
CHARLESTON — Bishop Robert J. Baker ordained Robert Higgins, Christopher Smith and David Whitman to the priesthood in a Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist July 23.
The three men have different backgrounds, but all share a common love for Christ and the church.
Father Smith, the youngest at 28, hails from Greenville and St. Mary Church, to which he will return as its new parochial vicar.
Father Smith attended the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary in Rome. He is a convert from the Baptist faith, but the call to the priesthood came early. He spent years as a young boy researching religions around the world and felt that God was leading him to the Catholic Church.
“I always tell people that at the age of 13 I was converted to the priesthood,” said Father Smith. “For me, conversion was a purely intellectual thing after I had come to the conclusion that Catholicism was the true religion.”
Father Smith said that families who pray together consistently, not just at Sunday Mass, are the families who are working to foster vocations. He said that such a call is a special grace that God gives and that oftentimes the call comes at an early age.
As for Father Smith’s parents, the call came as a bit of a surprise, but was one the devout Baptists have learned to respect. His mother was unable to come to his ordination because of illness, but his father, Ed, attended.
“For a while I discouraged Chris from doing this,” Smith said. “Then I realized that it is his choice and his life to live. He is going to do a good job and will do a lot of good for young people.”
Father Smith was vested by Msgr. Lawrence McInerny, pastor of Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island.
“I chose Father McInerny because he was an immense inspiration to my vocation,” said Father Smith. “He is a priest’s priest and a true inspiration.”
Father Higgins, a native New Yorker and cradle Catholic, also felt the call to his vocation as a young man, but he didn’t answer the calling until he was in his 40s. With an Italian mother and an Irish father, life couldn’t have been more focused on church, family, and food.
“When Bobby was growing up we would celebrate everything — birthdays, holidays, everything — by going to church and then coming home and having a big Italian meal,” his mother, Virginia Marler, said. “We had priests and nuns in the house around our table all the time. Bobby spent a lot of time in the garage with his grandfather and our priest, working on the priest’s car.”
It was during these times that Father Higgins learned a great deal about the priesthood and contemplated that path in his own life. Although he entered the seminary twice before finally completing his training at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Florida, he always knew he was on the right track.
“The timing was right for the first time,” said the 44-year-old. “I held jobs as a teacher, a construction foreman, a restaurateur, and a stock broker, but I always knew this was my calling.”
He will be the new parochial vicar at Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant.
Father Whitman changed course in life, moving from insurance salesman to insurance of another kind. He became involved with the Legion of Mary in an effort to deepen his prayer life and grow in his own spirituality.
“It was then that I heard a calling,” said the graduate of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md. “I am very excited to minister to people and give myself to them.” Father Whitman said that his greatest fear is that of fear itself.
“I don’t ever want my own inadequacies to get in the way of the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I am my own worst enemy, but if I can get past fear I will be accomplishing something.”
Mike Whitman, Father Whitman’s brother, said that “David’s announcement that he was called to the priesthood came as a huge surprise to the family. We are thrilled for him, though.
“David will bring a caring, an understanding, an intellect to the priesthood,” he said. “He has a true desire to help and serve people.”
Father Whitman will work with Msgr. Charles Rowland to serve parishioners at St. Joseph in Columbia.