Fr. Lawlor recalls the Vatican II enthusiasm
He grew up in the traditional, pre-Vatican II environment at St. Stephen Parish in Geneva.
But when Father F. James Lawlor was ordained in Rochester in 1963 by Bishop James E. Kearney, he was just in time to witness the Second Vatican Council’s sweeping modernization.
“It brought a whole range of life, enthusiasm and energy in people that was absolutely contagious,” said Father Lawlor, who pegged that enthusiasm as one of the highlights of his 44-year career.
Father Lawlor, 70, will retire in June from his position as pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Mendon, where he has served since 1998.
The post-Vatican II enthusiasm lasted for nearly two decades, he said. Since then, some in the church have stepped away from the council’s original direction, he said.
“I will say in this diocese that the vision has remained more alive and vibrant than in other dioceses,” Father Lawlor said. “That is due to Bishop Clark. He has made a conscious effort to retain the vision of the council at much cost to him personally.”
Bishop Clark and Father Lawlor were in the same class at St. Bernard's Seminary. Father Lawlor also studied at St. Stephen’s Grammar School and DeSales High School in Geneva and St. Andrew Seminary.
“After graduation, I wanted to do a bunch of things,” he said. “One of those things was seminary. It fit, so here I am.”
After being ordained, Father Lawlor was assistant pastor of St. Helen Parish in Gates from 1963 to 1965 and assistant diocesan chancellor from 1965 to 1966 and was a graduate student at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., from 1966 to 1967.
Upon returning to Rochester in 1967, Father Lawlor became assistant pastor of Guardian Angels Parish in Henrietta. He worked as chaplain at the University of Rochester’s Newman Center from 1968 to 1974 and was assistant pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Greece from 1974 to 1980, when he became pastor of St. Mary Parish in Rochester. He took a sabbatical in 1997, and worked for six months at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Irondequoit before going to the Mendon parish.
Father Lawlor said he enjoys being present at the pivotal moments of people’s lives. In the past several years, Father Lawlor said he has tried to cultivate a grassroots view of stewardship in his parishioners.
“We say thanks to God in giving our time, our talent and our treasure,” he said.
But as for a chance for his parishioners to give thanks to him, Father Lawlor said he hopes they won’t make a big deal of his retirement.
“We’re not planted here to build a kingdom,” Father Lawlor said. “We’re all on a journey.”