For Father Robert Edwards, the priesthood has meant “experiencing the mystery of God in human life in all its beauty and majesty and the saving grace of the Lord to transform our humanity.”
Father Edwards, since his ordination in 1981, has ministered at parishes in three of the six counties of the diocese as well as taking several diocesan roles – notably as the liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, in which he has been active for decades.
His other diocesan service has included being a member of the Catholic Charities board and the Priests Council, several terms as dean of Columbiana County, and on the Presbyteral Council.
In addition, Father Edwards at various times has served as chaplain at Mount Union College, Alliance; as a member of the Domestic Violence Shelter Board in Alliance; and with the Ecclesial Team for Akron, Canton and the Youngstown area for Worldwide Marriage Encounter from 1988-92.
Father Edwards, 70, officially retired last year from Salem St. Paul Parish as pastor and from Leetonia St. Patrick, as administrator.
He grew up in Austintown Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, where he also attended grade school. He graduated from Austintown Fitch High School and then went to Youngstown State University (YSU), earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
Around 1977, he became involved in the Catholic charismatic renewal, which emphasizes prayer in the Holy Spirit and pursuit of spiritual gifts such as praying in tongues and healing.
“I found that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in those open to His gifts,” Father Edwards said. He noted that involvement with the charismatic renewal helped him discern his calling to the priesthood.
After YSU, he pursued priestly studies at Mount St. Mary of the West Seminary in Cincinnati, graduating in 1981 with a master’s degree in theology.
Ordained by Bishop James Malone in 1981 at St. Columba Cathedral, Father Edward’s first assignment was as associate pastor at Canton St. John the Baptist Parish, where he served for about 18 months.
Next, Father Edwards was appointed pro-tem associate pastor at Alliance St. Joseph Parish in January 1983. He was named associate pastor there that July.
In 1989, Father Edwards was transferred to Youngstown St. Christine Parish, serving as associate pastor. Among his ministries there was working with a parish charismatic prayer group.
His first pastorate came in 1994 at Lisbon St. George and St. Agatha Mission in West Point. He took on the additional responsibility of pro-tem administrator at Dungannon St. Philip Neri and Summittville St. John the Baptist parishes from late 1997 to May 1998.
Father Edwards was given the dual assignment of pastor of Salem St. Paul and administrator of Leetonia St. Patrick in October 2010. He continued in that dual role until his retirement last year.
He has maintained his involvement with the charismatic renewal. Two years ago, he and the Community of Praise, a charismatic prayer group based at Walsh University, North Canton, coordinated a special charismatic Mass at Salem St. Paul on Pentecost.
In welcoming those present for the Mass, Father Edwards prayed “for the renewal to grow again in the diocese” as well as in the larger Church.
In his retirement, Father Edwards is living in North Jackson, volunteers at the Elkton Correction Facility, and “I try to offer Mass when parishes need a priest.”
His parishioners and others associated with Father Edwards’ ministry have praised him for his dedication to his parishioners and his spiritual discernment.
Cheryl Langford, a leader in the Community of Praise, said that “Father Edwards has helped me better understand how the Spirit works,” as well as awareness of the obstacles to spiritual growth
Pat Morrissey, who served for years as business manager at Salem St. Paul and Leetonia St. Patrick parishes, described Father Edwards as “a caring and compassionate pastor who dedicated over 40 years caring for the souls entrusted to him.”
Fritz Schuleter, a principal in the West Branch schools and a longtime parishioner of Salem St. Paul, said that Father Edwards “was there when people needed him.
“One of his gifts is searching out and caring for those people on the peripheries. He wants everyone to be included, Schuleter said.
“He is a very humble and giving person to all with whom he comes in contact,” Morrissey said. “I wish him well as he continues his ministry in retirement.”
Contributing to this story was Pete Sheehan