After 43 years of serving as pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Baltimore, the Rev. Richard T. Lawrence is retiring.
The church announced his retirement on Monday, and Lawrence, 74, followed up with a Valentine’s Day letter to friends of the church. In his letter, Lawrence alluded to his lengthy rehabilitation following a fall at his home last October. His final day as pastor will be Feb. 27.
“Dear Family of St. Paul,” Lawrence began:
I am grateful for your assurance of prayer for my continuing recovery. And it is continuing: I am getting a little stronger every day and I fully expect to be well enough to go home within a month or so. But I do not realistically expect to be strong enough to perform all the ministry that you have a right to expect of your pastor.
I have therefore decided that it is time for me to retire. I have submitted my letter of resignation of the office of the pastor to be effective Monday, February 27th at noon, and the Archbishop has accepted it.
We will have a Mass at St. Vincent’s on Sunday, February 26th at 10:30 a.m. to give me an opportunity to sum up my ministry and say farewell to each of you. A reception will follow, and I hope as many as possible of you will help celebrate the Mass and the ensuing party.
Lawrence, known as Father Dick or just Dick, became the 13th pastor at St. Vincent’s in 1973, when William Donald Schaefer was mayor, and has served continually since then. His tenure makes him one of the longest-serving pastors in the state and the country. The Archdiocese of Baltimore has not named a successor.
Over the years, Lawrence has become a leader both in the Catholic church and in the community at large, working with business and government officials and taking stands on issues such as homelessness and gay marriage. He also has led efforts to preserve the historic church at 120 N. Front Street.
Laureen Brunelli, administrator and director of evangelization at the church, said a big part of Lawrence’s legacy is that he “empowered the people,” by instilling a sense that the congregation members and the “spirit of the community” are as important as the ordained ministers.
“As much as he is a wonderful leader, he made it clear that…it’s not just him, it’s us,” she said. “It’s coming from the ground up. We are the church.”
Lawrence said as much in his letter.
“I flatter myself to think that I have had a hand in developing this spirit and this ministry, but I surely hope that it is not dependent on me,” he wrote. “If the spirit of the community begins to founder in my absence, then I have wasted forty years. But if the community continues to grow stronger in the present and in the future, then perhaps my ministry can be considered a success.”
Brunelli said the farewell service came together quickly because Lawrence didn’t want a celebration during Lent, which begins March 1. That means it either had to take place before March or after Easter, which is April 16.
Lawrence wrote that he is grateful for the support he has received over the years.
“I would like to express my thanks for all you have done for me and been for me during these past 43 years, and I apologize sincerely to all those who have been hurt because of my many limitations and failings,” he wrote.
“While I am resigning the office of pastor, I have no intention of dropping off the face of the earth,” he continued. “Every member of the parish is welcome to visit me at my home, and I look forward to seeing you at least occasionally at the weekend liturgies, whenever I may be asked to help out. I will continue to pray for each of you and hope that you in turn will pray for me.”
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