Three priests of the Diocese of Charleston were bestowed with papal honors recently: Msgrs. Martin T. Laughlin, Joseph R. Roth, and Charles H. Rowland. Bishop Robert J. Baker presided at the ceremonies, which took place during Advent.
In his homily, Bishop Baker said, “ ‘Be prepared’ is the Boy Scout motto. It is also the motto for the season of Advent. What in our lives needs attention? Where do we need the oil for our spiritual machinery? Time is at a premium. It is running out. The Lord comes only to those who are prepared.”
These three devoted priests received honors from Pope John Paul II because they faithfully serve their church and her people, always guiding them in the ways of the Lord.
On Dec. 5 Msgr. Roth received the Protonotary Apostolic Supernumerary in a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Msgr. Rowland received the same honor on Dec. 19 at St. Joseph Church in Columbia.
Bishop Baker presented the men with the diploma issued by the Papal Secretariat of State. The honor is based on “meritorious and outstanding service to the church, especially on the diocesan level.”
The title Protonotary Apostolic, when it represented a college, dates back to the first century with Pope Clement I, when men selected as notaries for Rome also functioned as archivists and diarists. In the 16th century the honor merged several different jobs and was available to people who lived outside of Rome. Although the function of the position has changed over the centuries, it was retained by Pope John VI with fewer classifications.
The honor as it is used today serves more as a distinction which makes the recipient an “honorary member of the papal household” and the “highest ranking non-episcopal prelate at the diocesan level.” He is titled “Reverend Monsignor” and may wear the purple vesture and ferraiolo.
“This title from our Holy Father is not so much about grandeur and splendor but about recognition of the extraordinary witness to the Lord from those being honored,” said Bishop Baker.
Msgr. Rowland qualified not only through his accomplishments as pastor but also through his work as the Judicial Vicar for the diocese.
“Msgr. Rowland is more deserving than anyone I know,” said Stephanie McCabe, St. Joseph Choral administrative assistant. “He gives so much of himself to his vocation as a priest and we are so proud this honor has been bestowed upon him.”
“Msgr. Rowland is a very holy and dedicated priest and we, the parishioners of St. Joseph Church, are so blessed to have him here. Look at all the positive changes that have occurred since he arrived 14 years ago. We have so many more ministries than we had before he came,” said Doris Wilson-Woest, an office volunteer who appreciates how open Rowland has been to parishioners’ ideas and suggestions.
During the service, Msgr. Rowland seemed particularly moved and humbled by the recognition.
“Thank you, bishop, for nominating me for this honor and thanks to all of you for participating in this service,” said Msgr. Rowland. “It is good to be here at St. Joseph as your pastor.”
Msgr. Roth is pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and serves as a vicar general for the diocese.
“Few active priests have committed more time and energy for the good of the diocese than Msgr. Roth. He’s unique like that,” said Father Ronald Cellini, pastor of St. Peter in Beaufort. “He’s a very talented man who has a great love for priests. He keeps in touch with the clergy on a personal basis as well as keeping up with his administrative duties.”
On Dec. 12 at St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head, Msgr. Laughlin was given the Prelate of Honor, another papal honor given to “outstanding members of the local clergy.” The honor entitles the recipient to be addressed as “Reverend Monsignor.” He also received his letter of nomination from the Vatican Secretariat of State.
Msgr. Laughlin is pastor of St. Francis by the Sea and is a vicar general for the diocese.
“I cannot think of a more deserving person to receive this honor,” said Sister Kathleen Kane, pastoral associate at St. Francis by the Sea. “Msgr. Laughlin is a wonderful pastor and a deeply spiritual priest. He reflects the love and kindness of God to all. He is a clear light.”
Father Gregory West, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, said, “He exemplifies priestly service by his generous and self-sacrificing commitment to the church.”
Bishop Baker, who nominated all of the men for the papal honors, thanked them for their tireless efforts as servants of the church and for serving their diocese in a special way with unselfish devotion.
(Source: “The Church Visible: The Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church,” by James-Charles Noonan Jr.)
Kathy Schmugge and the staff of The Catholic Miscellany contributed to this article.