Ronald David Lawler, O.F.M. Cap. 1926-2003
The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, Province of St. Augustine
Born: July 29, 1926
Profession of the Capuchin life: July 14, 1946
Ordination to Priesthood: August 28, 1951
Date of death: November 5, 2003, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“The good influence that Father Ronald [Lawler] had on so many Capuchins and diocesan priests cannot be exaggerated,” said Archbishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Boston and fellow Capuchin friar. He spoke those words to Pat Bartos of the Pittsburgh Catholic Newspaper in September.
The tribute was just one of the many to be received for Father Ronald Lawler, OFM Cap., 77, a Capuchin Franciscan friar of the Province of St. Augustine who died on Wednesday, November 5, 2003, at Vincentian Home, Pittsburgh, PA, after a long battle with cancer.
A noted professor, writer, catechist and lecturer, Father Ronald was born in Cumberland, MD, as “David” Lawler on July 29, 1926, the son of the late Leo Thomas and Lillian (Laing) Lawler. He grew up with the Capuchin Franciscan friars at the parish of Ss. Peter and Paul, in Cumberland, MD, and was educated at Ss. Peter and Paul School before entering St. Fidelis Seminary in 1939 where the Capuchins became his friends and his mentors.
He was given the name of “Brother Ronald” when he entered the Order of Capuchin Franciscans and made his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience on July 14, 1946. He was ordained a priest on August 28, 1951, and spent his first few years of priesthood ministry working with seminarians at St. Fidelis High School Seminary in Victoria, KS, a ministry which would be at the forefront of his life’s work in 52 years of ministry.
Father Ronald moved on to studies in Philosophy at St. Louis University, receiving his Doctorate in 1958. One could say that “teaching the teachers” was a consistent theme in his life and work. He spent nine years (1960-69) working at St. Fidelis College in Herman, PA, before moving on to sow the seeds of Catholic Education at Josephinum College (Worthington, OH; 1975-1977); Catholic University of America (Washington, DC; 1977-1980); St. Thomas University (Houston, TX; 1980-1982); St. John University (New York, NY; 1982-88); and Holy Apostles College and Seminary (Cromwell, CT; 1988-90).
In 1976, along with his brother, Thomas Comerford Lawler and the Most Rev. Donald Wuerl, now Bishop of Pittsburgh, he co-wrote and co-edited The Teachings of Christ, a widely respected and popular explanation of the Catholic Faith, now in its 4th edition. “It was very successful right from the start,” Father Ronald said in an interview. “We were surprised. It was proof that catechisms could be written.”
In 1990, Father Ronald accepted the position of Catechetical Consultant for the Diocese of Pittsburgh where he continued his collaboration with close friend Bishop Donald Wuerl. He was “very instrumental” in bringing the chastity education program, “The Catholic Vision of Love,” into the diocese and helped to organize the adult faith formation lecture series. Judy Kirk, head of the diocesan religious education office for the Diocese, said that “He has a way of bringing the faith to people. He makes you want to be Catholic. He has such a way about him. He’s so gentle with people.”
Father Ronald was particularly proud of his work in founding the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (1977) which presented him with its second Annual Founders Award in September, 2003, for “outstanding work on behalf of the Church in the intellectual apostolate.” Archbishop Sean of Boston said, “His brilliant mind, Herculean capacity to work, his boundless love for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church and the Catholic priesthood have made an indelible mark on our lives.”
“It’s a great life,” Father Ronald once said. “Teaching is a wonderful, wonderful life.” But Father Ronald, a tireless worker, was to become the profound “learner” in his last months as he fought the effects of cancer. He was cared for by his brothers at St. Augustine Friary, Pittsburgh, PA, the community’s “motherhouse.” Seeing that he needed special care as the end approached, he was transferred to Vincentian Home, Allison Park, PA, on Tuesday, November 4, 2003 where he died the following day.
Another of his Capuchin students, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, CO, said, “I don’t know that anyone has had a more positive effect on my own life and thinking than Father Ronald. Father Ronald is a pillar and foundation for me and so many others, a pillar of integrity, strength, virtue, consistency and fidelity.”
Father Ronald was preceded in death by his brother Albert (“Bert”), and two sisters Lillian Lawler and Laing Lawler Baker. He is survived by his brother, Thomas Comerford Lawler of Sterling, VA, by his sister Mary Lawler Busch of Berlin, MD, numerous nephews and nieces, and by over 10,000 Capuchin Franciscan brothers throughout the world.
Father Ronald’s body was received at St. Augustine Friary, 221 - 36th Street, Pittsburgh, PA, on Saturday, November 8, 2003, at 1:00pm, where visitation took place from 2:00pm-4:00pm and 7:00pm-9:00pm. The body will be transferred to St. Augustine Church, 37th Street, on Sunday, November 9, 2003, at 1:00pm, where Visitation will continue until 9:00pm. A wake service will be celebrated at 8:00pm on Sunday evening. On Monday, November 10, 2003, a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00am by the Capuchin Provincial Minister, Very Rev. Paul Kuppe, OFM Cap. The Most Rev. William Winter, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh will preside, and former student and friend of Father Ronald, Most Reverend Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., will offer the Homily.
Burial will follow in the friars’ plot of St. Augustine Cemetery, Shaler, PA.
In lieu of flowers and according to his wishes, donations may be made to the education of Capuchin Franciscan friars in memory of Father Ronald. Please call the Capuchin Province of St. Augustine [220-37th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201; (800) 224-0330].