Reverend William J Lawler, 73, retired pastor of St. Mary Refuge of Sinners and St. Mary Star of the Sea churches in Dorchester County, Maryland, died in Ocean Pines at the Macky and Pam Stansel House on April 30, 2020.
Father Lawler was born December 20, 1946 in Wilmington, DE to James R. and Marguerite (Hahn) Lawler. He attended Christ Our King Parish School in Wilmington, St. Charles College preparatory seminary, Catonsville, MD and St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. Vastly overeducated, he was ordained a priest for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington by Bishop Thomas J. Mardaga, D. D. on May 13, 1972.
He served as associate pastor in parishes in Claymont and Wilmington, DE and Elkton, MD. In June, 1983, he was named pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Elkton. During his term there, he opened the church as an emergency homeless shelter during the winter months. He was appointed diocesan director of the Office for Parish Renewal in June 1990 and coordinated the RENEW Program for all the parishes of the diocese (1991-94). He returned to parish ministry on the Eastern Shore in 1996 when he was named pastor of Mother of Sorrows (Centreville) and St. Peter (Queenstown) churches in Queen Anne’s County.
He transferred, at his own request, to Dorchester County, MD and was named pastor of St. Mary Refuge of Sinners (Cambridge) and St, Mary Star of the Sea (Golden Hill) churches in June 2004. During his time in Dorchester County, he worked with other Christian clergy in the Dorchester Ministerial Association, learned Spanish in order to welcome and serve Latino immigrants, became associated with the friends of Bill W., and, in addition, was adopted by his beloved cat, “Señor Gato.” During his tenure also, the parish paid off its indebtedness (minus the rectory destroyed by fire in 2015) and started the St. Mary Refuge of Sinners Cemetery where Father Lawler will be laid to rest following the funeral.
Father Lawler retired to Ocean City in 2017 and assisted local parishes when he was not traveling to France (to use up all the French he learned) or Ireland (where he met 45 cousins he never knew he had) or other places. In 2019, he was diagnosed with ALS and moved into assisted living care in Salisbury. He chronicled the progress of his illness on Facebook for as long as he was able.
He was predeceased by his parents and one brother, James R. Jr. He is survived by a brother, Howard J. (Mary) of Omaha, NE and a sister, Mary Anne Dorsey, of Dunnellon, FL and nieces and nephews.
A private interment will be held in St. Mary, Refuge of Sinners Catholic Church Cemetery, Cambridge, Maryland, with Father Ed Aigner officiating.
A Funeral Mass will be scheduled at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in Father Lawler’s name can be made to St. Mary, Refuge of Sinners Catholic Church, 2000 Hambrooks Blvd., Cambridge, MD 21613.
Arrangements entrusted to Newcomb and Collins Funeral Home, P.A., Cambridge, MD
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St. Mary, Refuge of Sinners
2000 Hambrooks Blvd., Cambridge MD 21613