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‘Kind,’ ‘caring’ Monsignor Lawler retiring as vicar general

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OGDENSBURG — He is described in affectionate superlatives: kind, gentle, caring, a trusted confidante. He also is known as a good storyteller.

Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, 82, will retire Sunday as vicar general for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg, a position he has held since 1994. A quiet and unassuming man, he chose not to comment on his decadeslong career with the diocese.

But his friends and diocesan colleagues were more than happy to do so, with praise.

“He is the most kind and gentle man I have ever known,” said the Rev. Douglas J. Lucia, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Canton. “I always admired his patience. He always has time to talk to people.”

Colleen E. Steele, administrator of St. Joseph’s Home, which the monsignor was key in developing and where he continues to preside over daily midmorning Mass, considers him family.

“Obviously, we see him as part of St. Joseph’s Home,” she said. “He’s one of the kindest men I’ve ever met. The residents remember him.”

Monsignor Lawler was born Nov. 9, 1930, in Oneonta. He studied for the priesthood at Wadhams Hall Seminary College and at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 19, 1956.

In serving Bishops Paul S. Loverde, Gerald M. Barbarito, Robert J. Cunningham and Terry R. LaValley, he has held numerous diocesan positions. He retired in June as pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Waddington, and St. John the Baptist Church, Madrid.

That kind of jack-of-all-trades willingness to serve his diocese has never gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

Just ask Bishop LaValley.

“He has served as the closest adviser and confidante to the last four diocesan bishops,” the bishop said in an emailed message. “My three predecessors and I have been richly blessed by Monsignor’s wise counsel and cherished friendship. ... The church, indeed the entire north country, is indebted to Monsignor Lawler for his continuing priestly ministry among us.”

Sister Jennifer L. Votraw SSJ, the diocese chancellor, planner and director of communications, said Monsignor Lawler is regarded as “a saint” by many of the other sisters.

“He’s a good man,” she said. “He’s a well-respected man.”

The monsignor, Sister Jennifer said, has an extensive knowledge of the diocese’s history.

And then some.

“He could always tell a good story,” she said.

Monsignor Lawler’s successor as vicar general, the Rev. Joseph A. Morgan, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral, has high praise for his friend’s dedication to the diocese.

“Monsignor Lawler has served with distinction over the course of these many years,” he said. “His fine work and ministry with Catholic Charities for decades and the pastoral care he has extended to his parishioners over the years has been second to none. He has a wonderful way of helping people draw close to the Lord and experience the love of God in their lives.”

The Rev. F. James Shurtleff, pastor of Notre Dame Church, also praised Monsignor Lawler’s service to others.

“He is a very kind and caring person,” Father Shurtleff said. “He has a great concern for the needy.”

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