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Former abbot of Belmont Abbey dies at 83

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Father Edmund McCaffrey, a retired priest of the Diocese of Charleston who was a former Benedictine monk and former abbot of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina, died Nov. 13 in Louisville, Ken., where he resided with the Little Sisters of the Poor. He was 83.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated Nov. 28 at St. Michael Catholic Church in Garden City, which he helped found in 1976.

As a Benedictine, he was a founder and former head of the political science department at Belmont Abbey College, as well as a visiting professor and writer, then abbot of the Belmont Abbey monastery. He was incardinated in the Diocese of Charleston Oct. 1, 1993.

In the diocese, he served at St. Andrew Parish in Myrtle Beach, was the priest in charge of the Garden City Catholic Community, helped found St. Michael in Garden City at Murrells Inlet, was pastor at Divine Redeemer in Hanahan. He retired Jan. 1, 2003, after serving as pastor of Holy Family Church on Hilton Head Island. Even in retirement, he spent time traveling, giving retreats and parish missions all over the country.

"I'm proud of the work I did at St. Michael Church," he said in a 2008 interview with The Catholic Miscellany, Charleston's diocesan newspaper. "When I started, it was a little church and we didn't have any money, but what we built has become one of the largest parishes in South Carolina."

Father McCaffrey was an avid supporter of vocations, and in 1974 he served as co-founder of the Institute on Religious Life in Chicago with Jesuit Father John Hardon, Bishop James J. Hogan of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and William Isaacson. He was executive vice president and executive director from 1975 to 1980. The institute's mission is to promote the growth and renewal of consecrated religious life. He started the organization when he was abbot of Belmont Abbey.

"We wanted to preserve the gift of consecrated life as envisioned by Vatican II, which not only included religious but the laity, too," said the priest.

Father McCaffrey received the institute's 2003 Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award for manifesting "notable support and promotion of the consecrated life."

In 1990, Fathers McCaffrey and Hardon also were two of the co-founders of Eternal Life, a Catholic pro-life organization that would focus more on the educational aspect of pro-life work. In the first few years, they held more than 20 "Make a Moral Miracle Happen Conferences" all over the country.

Father McCaffrey returned to Myrtle Beach in 2003 because he had so many friends there. Besides giving retreats and parish missions, he led more than 23 pilgrimages to Fatima in Portugal and still tried to go annually.

He said some of his most important work was promoting the sacraments.

"I like to talk about the Eucharist and the importance of confession," the priest said. "Those are my main apostolic works. I preach about those things all the time."

He was born Jan. 9, 1933, in Savannah, Georgia, to Joseph E. McCaffrey and Ruby Elizabeth Johnson Fairbanks McCaffrey. He was a graduate of Belmont Abbey Preparatory School, Belmont Abbey College and Belmont Abbey Seminary in Belmont, North Carolina, and The Catholic University of America in Washington.

He had a bachelor's, a master's and a doctorate in political science, and also had a doctorate in sacred theology doctorate. He made his profession as a Benedictine monk (American-Cassinese Congregation) July 2, 1953, and was ordained a priest May 23, 1959. He was elected the fourth abbot of Belmont Abbey March 2, 1970.

In retirement, Father McCaffrey did everything but slow down.

"I don't think that a priest should ever retire," said Father McCaffrey in an interview. "When a man gives himself to God, it should never end with a retirement."


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016