By NANCY CZABALA
CHARLESTON — A hard-working, dedicated man, Deacon Robert A. Spencer, will bring his love of the faith to parishioners in the Diocese of Charleston when he is ordained a priest by Bishop David B. Thompson on July 11 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Raised in Sylacauga, Ala., Spencer grew up loving bible stories which he attributes to the pastor at St. Jude Parish there. “He was a great story teller. He would tell stories, leaving you in suspense from week to week,” said Spencer. “He was very intense with his faith and passed that on to his parishioners.”
His personal spirituality was further nurtured by his parents. “They were my first teachers,” said Spencer. “My mom taught me spirituality and how to pray. And my dad taught me about hard work.” This lends reason for Spencer’s love of the military, and why after 13 years serving in the Marine Corps, he plans to return to complete his military career as a chaplain.
After graduating from college with a degree in law enforcement, Spencer joined the Marine Corps as an infantry officer. “I like the different cultures, the adventure and travel and the different people you meet in the service,” said Spencer.
In his last few months in the military, Spencer first caught site of his calling. A chaplain friend, Father Dennis Rocheford, referred him to the seminary. Spencer soon left the military with that thought in the back of his mind.
“I couldn’t find what I wanted in life, so I started praying and thought maybe this is what God wants me to do,” said Spencer.
He spent a year in Jersey City, N.J., working in AIDS ministry. During this time he lived in a lay religious community and sought the answer to his priestly calling. Having already made up his mind to enter the priesthood, he spent the year contemplating a diocesan or religious order life.
He later revealed to his brother, a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, his intentions to go to seminary, to which his brother suggested he apply to the Baltimore Archdiocese. Spencer began his studies at Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., under the sponsorship of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. After a year he found the people of the archdiocese comparing him to his brother, and wanting his own identity Spencer transferred to the Diocese of Charleston. He had met fellow seminarians who were sponsored by the diocese, and being that it was southern and not too far from home, Spencer took the opportunity.
Spencer completed his seminary studies at Pope John sponsored by the Diocese of Charleston and co-sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
He has spent summers at Blessed Sacrament in Charleston and Prince of Peace in Taylors, at Navy Chaplain School in Newport, R.I., at the Beaufort Naval Hospital and at the Military Chaplaincy Program at Parris Island. Spencer is currently at Parris Island until his ordination, when he will be assigned to a parish. After serving in the diocese for three years, he will serve as an active duty Navy chaplain.
“There is a huge need for priests in the military,” said Spencer. He estimated around 50 percent of the men and women in service are Catholic with only a fraction of priests to serve them. Spencer will return to the military to continue his travels. He will also go to serve his fellow seamen on their spiritual journey.