MURRELLS INLET—The Stations of the Cross hold a special place in the faith journey of Father Edward Fitzgerald, beyond devotion to the Passion.
“My earliest (childhood) memories were going with my parents to church on Good Friday and just meditating on the love God has for us,” Father Fitzgerald said recently, looking back at his life and his 25 years in the priesthood.
The Stations of the Cross has always been a very popular devotion to me, as is the Blessed Mother, he said.
In July, Father Fitzgerald celebrated his 25th jubilee as a priest, a journey that began alongside his parents, and grew as a student at the University of North Carolina- Greensboro.
“It’s Lent, and I’m praying before the Stations of the Cross. Father Conrad Kimbrough, who is now deceased, needs an altar server, so he asks me if I want to serve the Stations of the Cross.” At the time, Father Kimbrough was pastor at St. Benedict’s in Greensboro.
Father Kimbrough then asked the young Fitzgerald what seminary he was attending. Up to that moment, he said, his mind was focused on getting through college.
“Then, I started thinking that maybe this is God’s way of directing me on the path he wants me to choose.”
Father Fitzgerald went on to earn a degree in philosophy from UNC-Greensboro, and found his calling.
“It was there that my vocation came into full bloom,” he said.
Born into a Catholic family in Flushing, N.Y., Father Fitzgerald is one of three children of Frank and Mary Ann Fitzgerald. The family moved to New Jersey in 1971 and then to Charlotte in 1985, when his father’s job was relocated.
After earning his degree from UNC-Greensboro he entered seminary at St. Charles Borromeo in Philadelphia. Father Gary Linsky, pastor at the Basilica of St. Peter in Columbia, was a seminary classmate of Father Fitzgerald.
He also studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome before being ordained July 8, 1995, by Bishop David B. Thompson at St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head Island. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston was under renovation at the time of Father Fitzgerald’s ordination in preparation for the diocese’s 175th anniversary, “just like it is now for the 200th anniversary,” he said.
Father Fitzgerald served his first year as an ordained priest at the Cathedral.
“I lived with Bishop Thompson, was an associate (pastor) at the Cathedral and his master of ceremonies,” he said.
From there, Father Fitzgerald was assigned to St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken as parochial vicar. During that time, the parish built a new life center with classrooms and a gymnasium.
From St. Mary, Father Fitzgerald spent a year serving as the lone priest for St. Mark in Newberry, St. Boniface in Joanna, and Holy Spirit in Laurens.
“I had three parishes, 40 miles apart from each other,” he said.
Father Fitzgerald then served two years at St. Mary, Our Lady of Ransom in Georgetown before Bishop Robert J. Baker sent him back to Rome to complete his degree in canon law. He returned briefly to St. Mary before the bishop assigned him to Divine Redeemer in Hanahan, where he remained for 10 years.
While at Divine Redeemer, Father Fitzgerald led his flock in celebrating the parish’s 50th anniversary in 2006.
In his spare time, he took up running and completed a marathon in 2004 with the Charlotte Observer Run for Peace. At the time, he described the effort as “the most difficult thing I have done.”
He turned his interest in running into a fundraising tool, collecting thousands of dollars for education projects and other causes at the church and school.
“I did four marathons and around 13 half-marathons,” Father Fitzgerald said. His final half-marathon event was “around seven years ago,” he said, noting that he has reduced his running substantially since coming to St. Michael in Murrells Inlet in 2013.
“I have other pressing issues now while pastoring a parish with 3,500 families,” he said.
Among those families are Jim and ElLana Leonard, who assisted Father Fitzgerald in starting a St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Michael. The couple moved to Myrtle Beach from California shortly after Father Fitzgerald came to the parish.
“When we joined St. Michael, we were anxious to become more involved,” Jim Leonard said.
“As Jesus tells us in St. Luke’s Gospel, ‘The poor you always have with you,’” Father Fitzgerald said. “We have a very active St. Vincent de Paul Society serving the needs of the people in the Myrtle Beach area,” he said, a result Leonard attributes to “Father Ed.”
“He has never failed to give us what we’ve needed to help the less fortunate in our area,” Leonard said.
Parishioner and head usher Dennis McAloon said Father Fitzgerald is a “very compassionate priest,” who is attentive to the needs and concerns of his flock.
“He always asks about family and is genuinely concerned,” McAloon said.
Thereasa Crabb, former director of religious education at St. Michael, has worked with Father Fitzgerald since his arrival in 2013. She thanks God for placing Father Ed in her path.
“I am a better person for knowing him,” she said.
St. Michael also receives accolades from the many Catholics who vacation in the Myrtle Beach area. Comments on social media and travel websites routinely praise St. Michael as a “warm and welcoming” church.
Looking back on his 25 years as a priest, Father Fitzgerald said he cherishes those he has met and their reflection of God’s glory.
“It’s been a wonderful journey. I’ve met some beautiful people along the way. The one thing I appreciate about being a priest is watching people respond to the graces God gives them, not only in the Sacraments, but also in everyday life.”
Looking ahead, Father Fitzgerald said he hopes to sustain and build on that calling.
“I just try my best to stay close to Christ in the Sacraments and Blessed Mother in prayer to help me be the priest God wants me to be.”