WILMINGTON, Del. — One year after he was ordained, Paul Williams, OFM,was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Greenville, S.C. He spent the next 26 years ministering to various communities in South Carolina before moving last month from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Anderson to pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Wilmington.
People from around South Carolina gathered to pay tribute to Paul during the Diocese of Charleston Black Catholics Heritage Celebration in Greenville.
“You will always be welcomed back,” said Bishop Robert Guglielmone, bishop of Charleston, who was among those honoring Paul at the April 5 farewell banquet.
In recognition of Paul, the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Black Catholics established a scholarship fund to assist rising sixth grade Catholic African-American students attending Catholic schools in the Diocese of Charleston. Avideo tribute to Paul was also shown during the celebration.
Ministry in South Carolina
The majority of Paul’s priesthood has been spent in South Carolina. One year after his 1996 ordination in New York City, he moved south. The experience, he said, has enabled him to become extremely sensitive to what people have to say and to be a better listener.
“Northerners want you to get to the point,” Paul said. “Southerners want to have a conversation. In the South, there is a real politeness to listening.”
Over his quarter century of ministry in South Carolina, Paul served at three parishes — St. Anthony of Padua Parish, from 1987 to 2002; St. Marin de Porres, in Columbia, from 2002 to 2011; and St. Joseph Parish, in Anderson, from 2011 to 2013. He also served the diocese in a variety of positions, including as vicar for African-American Catholics.
“My whole experience here has been very fulfilling,” Paul said in an article in the Catholic Miscellany. “I fell in love with South Carolina and the Catholic community here. People are warm, welcoming and excited about their faith. South Carolina Catholics are proud of their Catholicism and willing, when necessary, to defend their faith and not be passive.”
Roosevelt Cummings, parishioner of St. Martin de Porres Parish, recalled Paul’s support both of the people of the parish as well as the Knights of Columbus. “He was more than a priest to us — he was a friend, a person who was understanding, a counselor, someone you always wanted to be around,” Cummings said in the April 18 Catholic Miscellany article.
Paul has been honored for his ministry in a variety of ways, including the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice Cross Medal, which Pope Benedict XVI bestowed upon him in December 2008.
Transition to Delaware
Paul officially began his new ministry at Wilmington’s St. Joseph’s Parish on April 15. St. Joseph Parish is the oldest African American parish in the diocese with a community that traces its roots back to the 1800s. The Delaware parish is home to approximately 350 families, a small community compared to his St. Joseph Parish in South Carolina, which is home to roughly 800 families.
“I take some comfort in the fact that just being here a month, I’m finding that Wilmington is a southern town,” Paul said. “The city has its own southern charm. I believe the ministry here will be very fruitful.”
In addition to his traditional pastoral duties, Paul is celebrating Mass every first and third Friday at a local state penitentiary for women as part of St. Joseph’s Baylor Prison Ministry. He is also working with local United Methodist churches in preparation for visits from Catholic and Protestant students from Northern Ireland as part of the ULSTER program, which encourages reconciliation and friendship between the two religions. The teenagers will arrive early this summer.
Both the friar and parish community have been supportive during his transition, according to Paul, who now lives at St. Paul Friary.
“It’s also a blessing personally because I am almost home,” said Paul, who is from Alexandria, Va. “I’m closer to my family now. It’s a two-hour drive from Wilmington compared to nine hours from South Carolina.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.