HILTON HEAD ISLAND—On his last Sunday as pastor of Holy Family Church, Msgr. Joseph F. Hanley spoke as he regularly did with young people before their morning religious education classes.
In the quiet but emphatic way he has addressed people of all ages for the past 48 years, he let the kids know that they had an important role to play in the future.
“Someone is calling you. … God is calling you,” he said. “Listen, because He wants to show you a way to be happy. He put you here so you could make a difference in the lives of other people.”
Before starting retirement, Msgr. Hanley offered this gentle bit of advice on how to live an effective life of faith. It was one that in many ways reflected the life he has led as a priest for the Diocese of Charleston.
Msgr. Hanley was born in Charleston, attended Blessed Sacrament Church while he was growing up, and graduated from Bishop England High School.
He received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in religion and religious education from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and attended seminary at the Theological College at Catholic University.
He was ordained on May 25, 1968, by the late Bishop Ernest L. Unterkoefler. Over the years, he ministered to the faithful at parishes in nearly every corner of the state. He served as an associate at St. Peter Church in Columbia and St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg, and administrator at St. Joseph Church in Charleston. He was pastor at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Edgefield, St. Thomas the Apostle Church in North Charleston, Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island, St. Michael Church in Murrells Inlet, Blessed Sacrament, and, finally, Holy Family Church on Hilton Head Island.
Other achievements included serving on various diocesan boards, including the Presbyteral Council, the College of Consultors and the Curia, and in leadership positions for the former Coastal Deanery. Msgr. Hanley, who is fluent in Spanish, said he is especially proud of starting the Hispanic ministry program at Blessed Sacrament and helping build it up at other parishes. He also worked with migrant laborers at Holy Family on Johns Island.
“When I became a priest, it was utterly unforeseen that I would be involved with that ministry, but I truly enjoyed that and feel I accomplished something,” he said in an interview with The Miscellany.
Msgr. Hanley said the past 48 years have gone by “incredibly quickly,” but he is happy he was able to serve people in so many parts of the state.
“I got a nice exposure to South Carolina, to experience the Church and the people all over the state,” he said. “I experienced rural life when I was serving in Edgefield, worked with military families when I was at St. Thomas the Apostle, retired people, families and tourists along the coast. There were many, many high points for me.”
Particularly dear to his heart were the 18 years he spent at his home parish, Blessed Sacrament. He said it was special to celebrate Mass in the church he attended with his parents and where he received his first Communion. A few of his classmates from Blessed Sacrament School still attended the church when he was there.
Lynn Bruder, director of religious education at Holy Family, enjoyed working with Msgr. Hanley for three years and said he was a very supportive pastor.
“He was very pastoral to the families, always there for them,” Bruder said. “He worked with them whatever their circumstances were, accommodated them if they couldn’t attend a class or a function.”
She recalled that one of Msgr. Hanley’s favorite things to do was to attend the 15-minute discussion sessions with the youth on Sundays.
“He really enjoyed that time and showed himself as a fatherly figure to the children,” she said. “He got a kick out of their comments, liked to hear what they had to say, and he always talked to them about their different roles in life and the importance of finding a vocation. If you ever needed him to be there, he was always there. It was never a chore for him.”
As he begins retirement, Msgr. Hanley said he is not sure exactly what his plans will be. He will live in a former family home in Charleston and expects to serve as a substitute at parishes around the diocese if needed. He wants to pursue hobbies such as cooking and travel, including a possible trip to Iceland.
Whatever he does in the future, he will most remember the people he served with quiet dedication for all those years.
“Priesthood for me has been an opportunity to see God’s work in the lives of other people,” he said. “People give you a glimpse of their hearts and lives, and I’m grateful for that experience.”
Photo, Miscellany/Gerald Weaver: Msgr. Joseph Hanley addresses the congregation during Mass on Jan. 28 at Holy Family Church on Hilton Head Island. Msgr. Hanley has retired after 48 years as a parish priest. The Charleston native will return to the Lowcountry and serve as a substitute priest in parishes.