On Sunday, June 4, the Solemnity of Pentecost, people from around our diocese gathered at the Catholic Community of St. Jude in DeWitt to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Fathers Charlie Irvin and Jim Swiat. Mass was followed by lunch. At lunch, several of us offered tributes to Father Charlie and Father Jim. I was asked to speak about Father Charlie, and I thought it would be nice to share those words:
Today, we join with Father Jim Swiat and Father Charlie Irvin as they celebrate 50 years of priestly ministry, and we remember the late Father Larry Delaney who was ordained with them. In particular, it is my privilege to offer these words of both appreciation and thankfulness for the priestly ministry of Father Charlie Irvin, who has been my pastor, my mentor, my source of priestly inspiration and my friend for just about 30 years.
In September of 1987, responding to the not-so-gentle prompting of God, I found myself returning to the active practice of my Catholic faith after five years of being away. I walked into St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor one Sunday morning late in the month, and had my first experience of Mass with Father Charlie, who was the newly arrived pastor. I remember being spellbound by an engaging and thought-provoking homily and the Eucharist beautifully celebrated by this tall, somewhat geeky priest, who, I would soon learn, was a late priestly vocation, an attorney, an MBA, and a guy who was not afraid to share openly about his faith and how that faith had helped him through his own personal times of struggle and joy. I remember going home that day and not being able to wait to come back to Mass the following Sunday.
Soon, I had the chance to meet Father Charlie as I became more involved in the day-to-day life of the parish. I met the folks he had hired to serve as parish staff, and I came to understand what gave him joy as a priest and as a pastor. Now, he will tell you that a pastor’s job description comprises the following: lights, laundry, loot, locks, litter and liturgy. When he’s being serious, Father Charlie will tell you that his work as a pastor has always been to find people with the right gifts from God (even if they don’t think they have them), wind them up, let them go and get out of their way. For a guy with a lot of gifts from God, Father Charlie’s greatest gift is his ability to shy away from the spotlight. He focuses on the work at hand, and the best people who can collaborate in order to get the job done.
What matters to Father Charlie is the adventure of helping others discover, understand and put to use the gifts God has given them. What matters most to Father Charlie in his life as priest and pastor is the ongoing, continued reality of Pentecost. He is true to his word and his deepest desire – he helps others to see their God-given gifts, how they can be best put to use in building up the Body of Christ, the Church, offers the words of encouragement to wind them up, and then lets us go. Time and again.
Thank you, Father Charlie. On behalf of so many, thank you for the gift of your friendship and guidance through the years, but most of all, thank you for the gift of your ministry and your priesthood.
And so, our journey in FAITH continues.