By CHRISTINA LEE KNAUSS, The Catholic Miscellany | Published July 6, 2006
Father David A. Runnion, a member of the Atlanta Archdiocese and former assistant attorney general in Georgia, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Charleston on June 3.
Bishop Robert J. Baker ordained Father Runnion and Father Marcin Zahuta, a native of Poland, at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in the presence of priests from the diocese and several hundred people. Father Runnion’s mother, Bee, his brother and sister-in-law, Dan and Fay Runnion, his nephew and wife, Andrew and Brittney, and niece Jennifer, and other family members and about 75 longtime friends from Georgia came to the ordination and his first Mass the following day.
He has been assigned to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist as a parochial vicar.
A native of Spartanburg, S.C., Father Runnion, 58, has lived in Georgia most of his life. He grew up in Decatur, belonged to St. Thomas More Church, and studied at Emory University where he earned his undergraduate degree in English and his law degree.
After an adult conversion experience during active duty in the military before law school, he became very active once again in his Catholic faith, while also working on the staff of the Georgia attorney general’s office over the next 29 years.
He taught high school CCD, formed a youth group and adult Bible study group and became active in the Catholic charismatic renewal. He was archdiocesan coordinator of the charismatic renewal and led parish and regional prayer communities, particularly the Servants of the Lord based at Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain, where he was a parishioner. He also served for a time as a regional advisor for the national Catholic charismatic renewal.
About five years ago, he discerned a call to the priesthood and, after being accepted by the Diocese of Charleston, resigned from the attorney general’s office and entered Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass.
Father Zahuta, 28, studied at St. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich. He comes from the city of Nowy Sacz in southern Poland. He said that one of his goals when deciding to become a priest was to be a “missionary” priest, committed to leaving Poland and serving God in whatever part of the world needed him most.
The theme of missionary work was a focus of the homily offered by Bishop Baker during the ordination Mass.
Bishop Baker related the duties that will face the two new priests to the challenges and responsibilities that first faced Franciscans who came more than 400 years ago to the area that would later become South Carolina.
“Some of the challenges that faced those first missionaries have remained with priests throughout the years,” he said. “They faced the challenge of living with different cultures, of speaking different languages.”
He said the Franciscans and those who came in later years learned to do their work grounded in a “deep, profound faith in God nourished by a sustained life of prayer.”
“Teach what you believe, and practice what you teach so that by your example you may build up the house which is God’s church,” Bishop Baker said.
“Strive to put to death whatever is sinful, and walk in the newness of life. Strive to bring the faithful together in one family, and keep before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd. … May the Lord at the end of your lives say you came to the priesthood and stayed under the daily challenges. … May you look back at a lifetime of serving the Lord with gratitude, grace and absolutely no regrets.”
Father Runnion and Father Zahuta were then ordained in a rite that included the laying on of hands by the bishop, vesting in their stole and chasuble, and the anointing of their hands.The ceremony was accompanied by beautiful and moving music offered by the Cathedral’s organist and choir, including the chanting of the Litany of the Saints, during which the two candidates prostrated themselves before the Cathedral’s altar.
Father Runnion’s mother said she could not put into words the experience of seeing him become a priest.
“It was indescribable,” said Bee Runnion, a member of St. Thomas More Church. “My prayer was that David was mine for a time being, but he was God’s first, last and always. I completely let go of him as far as I could.”
About 90 people came to a dinner he hosted that evening. He celebrated his first Mass on Sunday, June 4, at the Church of St. Mary of the Annunciation in Charleston. The Mass was celebrated in memory of his late father, Thomas Runnion. The following weekend he celebrated the Saturday vigil Mass at St. Thomas More Church and a Sunday Mass at Corpus Christi Church.
He said of beginning his priestly vocation, “Each of us has a particular vocation of following Christ, and that is where we will be most fruitful for the Kingdom of God and most fulfilled personally. I am very humbled that our Lord has called me to His sacred priesthood, as confirmed by His church and the bishop’s ordination, and I am excited to begin serving His people in ordained ministry. May we all, in each of our vocations, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. And, wherever you are in your life, remain open to the next ‘good thing’ God has in store for you.”
Gretchen Keiser contributed to this article.