By JOANNE FOX
WEST BEND – With apologies to Fats Domino, Father Lawrence Carney is “walkin’ and talkin’ about you and me,” and hoping that listeners would come back to – not “me” – but, the Lord.
Known as the “walking priest,” Father Carney brought his message of street evangelization as part of the Grotto Speaker Series on July 9 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, West Bend.
The event was offered by the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in collaboration with the Office of Evangelization and Discipleship for the Diocese of Sioux City.
According to Andy Milam, marketing and public relations coordinator for the Grotto Shrine, Father Carney’s approach is a “method of being a visible presence of the church in his local community, and many from all walks of life are drawn to speak with him.”
Milam knows Father Carney personally as they have a mutual priest friend.
“He (Father Carney) embodies the new evangelization called for in Vatican Council II and promoted by Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis,” he said.
Walking the streets
Ordained for the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., Father Carney is presently on loan to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, where he serves as chaplain to the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Gower, Mo. He visits the nuns daily to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form, offers the sacrament of reconciliation and provides spiritual direction.
But once his duties are complete, Father Carney takes to the streets of St. Joseph. Armed with a rosary in one hand and a large crucifix in the other, the tall, young priest in a black cassock and Saturno clergy hat shares the Gospel of Christ with anyone who approaches him.
The oldest of three boys, Father Carney recalled his first inkling of a vocation surfaced in kindergarten.
“A Redemptorist priest visited and held up a card of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and it seemed like the eyes of Our Lady would follow me,” he said.
“I thought, ‘If a priest can do that with a holy card, then I want to be a priest,” he added with a soft smile and a precursor to his sense of humor
Father Carney confessed he “fought” the idea of the priesthood in high school.
“I was convinced I was to marry a beautiful young woman and have 12 children,” he said, with a poker face. “God ultimately won that battle.”
Following his 2007 ordination, Father Carney served as a parish priest in the Wichita Diocese. His life changed when he chose to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain – opting to wear a cassock – talking to about 1,000 people during his 32 days.
That experience led to his decision to walk the streets.
“On hot days, I can do two to three miles,” the 42-year-old said. “On nice days, I can do about 10 miles.”
Father Carney’s experiences led him to pen “Walking the Road to God,” published in 2017 by Caritas Press. The book’s subtitle is: “Why I left everything behind and took to the streets to save souls.”
“I’m a horrible author,” the priest announced. “Isn’t is something how God chooses the worst people to do his will?”
But save souls, he has, both in the Midwest and in travels to other parts of the United States.
“Three years ago, I was approached by a non-Catholic family who insisted their home was possessed by demons; the children were saying they saw red eyes in the house,” he said. “They asked me to pray for them and I did.”
In a subsequent encounter with the family, Father Carney asked about the demonic possession of the house.
“’Oh, Father, after you prayed and left, the devils left,’ the mother reported,” he said. “After one year of instruction, they were received into the church and one of the sons is discerning a vocation to the priesthood.”
The story was one of several the priest shared with the 125 souls in the pews at Sts. Peter and Paul Church.
Canons Regular order
In his debut book, Father Carney also expressed his dream of a new order of priests, clerics and brothers, who walk and pray in cities around the U.S. to regain what has been lost by so many lukewarm and fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics.
The Vatican approved his request for the new order on Dec. 8 – to accept men into the Canons Regular of St. Martin of Tours. The new community will be based in St. Joseph. About a dozen men have indicated an interest in joining, Father Carney reported.
“I am in the process of discernment myself for this new community,” he said. “God willing, I will profess my first vows on Nov. 11, 2019.”
In the meantime, Father Carney “walks the walk and talks the talk,” to about 10 people a day, which amounts to anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 folks in the last four years.
“The best part of the walking is I get to contemplate God,” he said. “I pray the rosary, get some exercise, look at nature and someone might talk to me and then, I share my contemplation with them.”
Jason and Andrea Paterson of Humboldt made the drive to West Bend because they were interested in Father Carney’s approach to evangelization.
“He definitely was pushing us to get out of our comfort zone with our faith,” Jason said.
“I liked that he encouraged us to share our faith more like Jesus and the apostles did,” Andrea added.
Katherine Tierney, also of Humboldt, said Father Carney’s talk resonated with her.
“I think he has inspired me to be more confident in sharing my faith with others,” she said
With a grin, Father Carney shook his head in response to the question, “Did you walk to West Bend from St. Joseph?”
However, the priest did admit to being somewhat of an expert on shoes.
“I have discovered shandals work well,” he said, referring to a part-shoe, part-sandal, which he had on his feet.
Father Carney reported the Canons Regular are looking into creating the hybrid and marketing them.
“We will be calling them, Father Martens,” he said, then, chuckled repeatedly at the reference to the popular Doc Martens footwear.