CHARLESTON—Father James Parker died May 11. He was 85.
A vigil will be held on May 15 at 6 p.m. at the James A. McAllister Funeral Home, 1620 Savannah Highway. Visitation will follow from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Burial will be at Holy Cross Cemetery on James Island.
Father Parker was born on Oct. 22, 1930, in Charleston, a son of Luther and Bertha H. Wieters Parker. He was baptized at St. Paul’s Church (now St. Luke and St. Paul Cathedral) and attended Porter Military Academy.
He felt the call to the priesthood while at the University of South Carolina, where he majored in Greek and philosophy. He married Mary Alma Cole, and then went on to Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va.
He was ordained on July 25, 1957, as a priest of the Episcopal Church. He later converted to Catholicism and served the Diocese of Charleston.
He served in parishes in Indiana and the Chicago area, where he earned a master’s in library science from Rosary College.
In 1967, while living in Chicago, Father Parker was knighted by King Peter II of Yugoslavia for his charitable work. He was given the Order of St. Salva by the king, who was living in exile in the United States at that time.
When Father Parker left Chicago, he became a librarian for Maryknoll Seminary in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and later for the Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn. He was in parish ministry in Albany, Ga., when the couple and their two college-age daughters decided to convert to Catholicism. It was 1976.
The conversion had been a long time in the making, however. In the 1960s the Episcopal Church had begun to make changes.
“Before this time we were able to teach forthrightly the Catholic religion; then the Episcopal church on the local and national level began to vote on issues considered revealed faith,” said Father Parker.
The Parkers were Anglo-Catholics, who as members of the Episcopal Church faithfully held to the teachings of Catholicism and believed that they were working toward corporate reunion with Rome.
“When these things happened we realized that Rome could not accept us,” Father Parker said. “Episcopal priests who were married were now asking for reunion individually.”
While in Albany, Father Parker was provincial of the Society of the Holy Cross. The men there elected him to represent their cause for conversion, so he contacted the apostolic nuncio to the United States. After a three-hour interview, the nuncio brought the Episcopal priests’ cause to the Vatican, where it was handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Four years later, the Vatican allowed Episcopal priests — married and celibate — to convert. An American bishop was appointed to oversee the process, and Father Parker was named as his assistant.
In 1981, the Parker family became Catholic. On June 29, 1982, Father Parker was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest for the Diocese of Charleston — the first married, former Episcopal priest to do so.
“I found that they [other Catholic priests] were very open to me. The more conservative, the more open they were to the process,” Father Parker said. “We did not see ourselves as a red flag against celibacy.”
Father Parker’s greatest challenge in his priesthood was building the $7 million church where he was pastor for 15 years.
He was involved with the Charleston Library Society and is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In 2004, S.C. Sen. Glenn McConnell asked Father Parker to officiate at the burial of the crew of the H.L. Hunley submarine.
He also served as vicar for retired priests, state chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, and diocesan representative for the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.
Father Parker retired in 2005 after 23 years of ministering to Catholics as pastor of Holy Spirit Church on Johns Island.
Messages of condolence may be sent to: Claire Butler, 219 W Davis St., Decatur, GA 30030.
June 14 correction: The original obituary provided an incorrect address for messages of condolence.