Diocese mourns Msgr. Roth, ‘Fire Fightin’ Padre’

MYRTLE BEACH—Msgr. Joseph Richard Roth, pastor of St. Andrew Church and an inductee into the firefighter hall of fame, died May 15. He was 74.

The Mass of Christian Burial is May 19 at 11 a.m. at St. Andrew followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery on James Island at 4:30 p.m.

Msgr. Roth was born Jan. 17, 1937, in Jackson Heights, N.Y., a son of Rudolph Richard and Mary Margaret McTavey Roth. He graduated from Marist Preparatory School in Esopus, N.Y., and earned his bachelor’s degree at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He went on to earn doctorates of divinity and theology from the International Bible Institute and a master’s of divinity from Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass. He also earned his canon law degree from Catholic University of America.

In 1956, he joined the Marist Brothers and taught in high schools and colleges for 18 years, including tenure as principal of a Marist high school in Kobe, Japan. He also founded an International Boy Scouts of America troop in Kobe.

Called to the priesthood, he was accepted by the Diocese of Charleston, attended seminary and was ordained by Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler in Sacred Heart Church, Bayside, N.Y., on June 2, 1979.

Over time, Msgr. Roth became a well-known priest in South Carolina, and for more than closing Mass with an Irish blessing. He was appointed diocesan co-vicar general in 2000 and served as pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston from 2001-2008. He helped launch the extensive renovations to the Cathedral which eventually included the historic steeple.

Over the years he served as pastor of St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken; Stella Maris on Sullivan’s Island; Christ the Divine Teacher at The Citadel in Charleston; and associate pastor of St. John the Beloved in Summerville. His administrative assignments included terms as pre-Cana director, serving on the diocese’s liturgical commission, the priests’ senate vocation team and as secretary to Bishop Unterkoefler.

“Msgr. Roth was a faithful priest and ever quick with a smile and a laugh,” said Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. “I am grieved at his passing. His willingness to serve the church in whatever need presented itself was a gift to the church.”

Indeed, the active priest also served on the faculty of Bishop England High School, was diocesan youth director, academic director of the permanent diaconate program and later its director, a tribunal judge, campus minister, and a member of the building commission, presbyteral council, and priests’ personnel board. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Cursillo.

Undoubtedly, the fire department held a special place in Msgr. Roth’s heart — his car even sported a “Fire Fightin’ Padre” decal.

In the early ’90s he responded to a shortage at the Sullivan’s Island Fire Department by becoming a chaplain and volunteer firefighter. He was appointed president of the South Carolina Society of Fire Service Instructors and served as an instructor. He also served as chaplain to fire departments on Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms, Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and James Island. He was the first Catholic priest to become chaplain for the South Carolina Firemen’s Association and the Fire Chief’s Association. Then in 2007, he made history as the first Catholic priest to be named to the South Carolina State Firefighters’ Hall of Fame.

His other accomplishments include receiving the prelate of honor, the Protonotarius Apostolicus, a distinguished service medal from the Boy Scouts of Japan, and the St. George Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He was awarded a God and Youth medal from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a medal of valor from the Sullivan’s Island Fire Department. He even earned a South Carolina Fire College Diploma and EMS First Responder Certification from Trident Technical College.

He is survived by his nephews Vincent and Patrick Roth, and two nieces, Susan Boone and Margaret Roth.

Messages of condolence may be sent to St. Andrew Church, 3501 N. Kings Hwy., Suite 102, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the church building fund.