A day in the life of a Catholic priest

Father Ronald J. Farrell

Father Ronald J. Farrell The Miscellany follows Father Ronald Farrell during a day of priestly service in Georgetown.

5:45 a.m.

As the sun begins to rise over Georgetown, the waterfront and the historic homes near Broad Street, Father Ronald J. Farrell wakes on a Tuesday.

He lives in the neat brick rectory that sits adjacent to St. Mary, Our Lady of Ransom Church, where he serves as administrator. The priest spends his early morning hours eating breakfast, praying the Liturgy of the Hours from his breviary, and going over the short homily he will give at morning Mass.

Like anyone else, Father Farrell, 56, has plans for the day; duties he absolutely must complete and others he would like to fit in. And, like anyone else, he has a schedule prepared.
But he is not like anyone else. As a member of the Catholic clergy serving two parishes, each with more than 200 households, Father Farrell knows that the day is not his to plan. One phone call or one knock on the door could present him with a completely different set of challenges: a family in financial crisis, a sudden illness or death, or a distraught parishioner who needs to talk.

“As a priest you don’t know what your day is going to be like,” he said. “You can wake up with your schedule set, and by 9:30 a.m. it all can be completely changed.”

Like every priest, Father Farrell knows his first duty is to serve God, and that means never having a typical day. It is something he has become accustomed to since his ordination in 2000, and during his six years in Georgetown.

8:00 a.m.

About 20 people are scattered in the pews at St. Mary as Father Farrell enters to celebrate Mass.

He will tell you that Mass is the most important part of his day, seven days a week. Along with numerous daily Mass times, he also celebrates liturgy at nearby St. Cyprian on Sunday, and a Spanish Mass there two Sundays a month.

The sacraments are central to his work as a priest, he said. He hears confessions on Saturdays at St. Mary, and at other times during the week by appointment.

On Thursday mornings, he drives more than 40 miles to the Federal Correctional Institution in Williamsburg County, a medium-security facility, where he brings the Eucharist to inmates, gives the sacrament of reconciliation, offers faith formation classes, and has even baptized some men over the years.

8:45-9:30 a.m.

Father Farrell spends a rare stretch of down time in his office at St. Mary, returning phone calls, checking paperwork and going over parish business with Bea Kisner, secretary.

He must pay attention to the smallest detail, such as how many envelopes of a certain color to order for use in the pews on Sundays.

He greets people who enter the office, and walks into the parish hall to say good morning to the women meeting for their weekly painting class.

Father Farrell inspects some examples of their work displayed along one wall and wishes them luck with their efforts.

The class, he says later, is part of an ongoing effort to bring members of the parish together.

“Whatever brings people out, we’ll try,” he says.

10:00 a.m.

John Kraus, a member and dedicated volunteer at St. Cyprian Church, is sitting in an armchair in his room at Georgetown Memorial Hospital. His left leg is swathed in bandages and a cast, but he grins when Father Farrell walks into the room.

Kraus tore ligaments two weeks earlier and recently had surgery to repair them. Father Farrell visited him right after the surgery and returned to bring him the Eucharist and pray with him.

11:05 a.m.

A black-and-white cat bolts around the side of a tidy one-story home in the Maryville section of Georgetown as Father Farrell walks up the side steps and knocks on the door. After a few minutes, 83-year-old Arlita Jordan opens the door and a smile spreads across her face.

Jordan, a long-time member of St. Mary, fell three weeks before and broke a bone in her arm. She is recovering well, but has been unable to make it to Sunday Mass.

As she leads Father Farrell into her den, Jordan tells him how much she misses sing­ing in the church choir, where she has been a member for 49 years.

“They said they miss me and that feels good,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll be back soon, when I can hold a book.”

He gives Communion to Jordan, and then they pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary together.

Jordan, a widow, talks about how proud she is of her four children, grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They also talk about her work with the Altar Society and Catholic Women’s Club. After about half an hour, it’s time to leave and Jordan shakes Father Farrell’s hand and thanks him for his time.

“You were sweet as you always are,” he said to her.

12:30 p.m.

Father Farrell takes a break for lunch at the Humble Crumb, a small locally-owned restaurant off U.S. 521 about five minutes from St. Mary. He is a regular customer at the sandwich shop, and is greeted by both the waitress and a worker behind the counter. He sits at a small table along one wall and orders a cheeseburger.

2:00 p.m. until…

The phones are quiet as Father Farrell returns to his office after lunch. He escorts visitors to a white, wood frame house parallel to the church that serves as a meeting facility and gathering place for the active parish youth group. Then it’s back to the office to check with Kisner about the status of their supply orders.

He gathers some papers and heads back to the rectory, where he will spend the rest of the afternoon in the company of Kelly, his miniature Doberman pinscher. He likes to spend several hours, when he can, preparing the homilies for the daily and Sunday Masses.

“I always try to keep them at five minutes — that’s a good length,” he said.

The afternoon also will be spent waiting. A woman who belonged to St. Mary for many years recently passed away from cancer, and wished to be buried in Pennyroyal Cemetery in Georgetown. Her children are flying into Charleston from the Northeast and driving to Georgetown to meet with Father Farrell to plan the funeral. The only catch is, he doesn’t know exactly when they will arrive.

But when they do, Father Farrell will be ready.

He will sit with them for as long as they need and help them select the readings and hymns that will help these adult children say farewell to their loved one. He will be there, even if it means staying up later than he planned.

That’s what Father Farrell does. He is a parish priest.