CHAPIN — Father Andrew J. Vollkommer has the perfect wheels for when his duties require him to be somewhere in a hurry.
The pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Chapin drives a black 2009 Dodge Challenger SR-T-8, a true American muscle car. He purchased it from a parishioner who is an automotive dealer and knew of the priest’s lifelong love of fast cars.
He recalled one time when he walked outside of a diner after eating breakfast and saw two highway patrolmen looking at the Challenger.
“They asked me if I could pop the hood so they could look at the engine,” he said.
The car might draw attention, but Father Vollkommer is more well-known in Lexington County for his 14 years leading a growing parish, which only had about 60 families when it started in 1978.
Now, more than 800 households are members. The church offers dozens of activities ranging from Scouting and religious education, to well-regarded assistance programs for people in need and children in the juvenile justice system.
Father Vollkommer finds his greatest pride in making Our Lady of the Lake a welcoming place for all, and a source of both spiritual and social fellowship that helps the faithful become closer to the church and each other.
He was born on Long Island, N.Y., the youngest of three children in a strong Catholic family. His mother died of cancer when he was 12, and he went to live in Arlington, Va., with his older sister, Carol, and her family because his father had to work so much.
During high school, he started teaching religious education classes at his church. It was there that he first felt the call to the priesthood.
Father Vollkommer spent 14 years in the Benedictine order. He took first vows as a monk in 1979 after graduating from Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. Over the years, he worked at Belmont Abbey, taught religious education at parishes in Colorado and the Charlotte area, completed graduate studies at St. John’s Abbey University in Minnesota and studied for seven months in Israel. He completed studies for the priesthood and was ordained in 1986.
Father Vollkommer said he always felt a calling to diocesan priesthood. In 1993, he received permission to be released from his vows, and was brought to the Diocese of Charleston by Bishop David B. Thompson.
He served at St. Joseph Church in Columbia and St. Mark Church in Newberry before coming to Chapin in 1995 as the first full-time resident pastor. He has supervised much of the growth and helped build a much-needed parish life center in the late 1990s.
The priest said the sheer variety of his daily work and the constant needs of the Catholic community are a testament to the challenges of the priesthood and the increased need for vocations, especially in a growing area like the diocese.
In one recent 48-hour stretch, Father Vollkommer was called to give last rites to a young man from the church who died suddenly, and then to counsel his widow and two young children. Within hours of that tragedy, he helped the family of another parishioner who committed suicide.
“Ministering to people in crisis is one of the most fulfilling things about the priesthood,” he said. “For some reason God has gifted me in that area, especially to minister to the sick and dying. It’s my hope in those moments to bring people his mercy and compassion, to let them know Christ has not abandoned them.”
He also travels three times a month to a men’s prison in Bishopville to offer sacraments and counseling to Catholic inmates.
Father Vollkommer prays the Liturgy of the Hours daily, sometimes using a special application on his iPhone that reads the morning and evening prayers aloud.
He draws inspiration for his daily work from St. Benedict, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and modern social justice activist Dorothy Day. His hobbies include cooking, photography, collecting cat figurines, and taking care of his pets, which include three indoor and three outdoor cats. His office at the church also has a special bed for the parish dog, Lady, a stray who was adopted 14 years ago.
“Trying to manage my time is a constant challenge,” he said. “As a priest, I have to remember to take care of myself too, to manage my prayer life, get my walk in and some physical exercise, take care of my physical health. If I don’t do those things, I can’t always serve the needs of others in the best way.
“As priests, we have to be the best we can ourselves so we can be the best for others.”