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Monsignor Robert L. Lawler dies at 83

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Monsignor Robert L. Lawler, a well known and respected member of the Roman Catholic community throughout the north country, died Thursday at St. Joseph’s Home, Ogdensburg. He was 83.

Monsignor Lawler served the Catholic Church for more than 60 years, the majority of which he spent helping people throughout the region.

“This man of God was dearly loved by all who knew him,” Bishop Terry R. LaValley said Friday in an emailed statement. “I am personally grateful for his wise counsel, generous spirit, inspiring priestly witness and cherished friendship. He will be greatly missed.”

Father Strutz was a classmate and lifetime friend of Monsignor Lawler. They met at College of the Holy Cross.

“We were always very close,” Father Strutz said. “I felt responsible for a time for him being a priest. What a wonderful man he was and a blessing he was.”

The Rev. Mr. Strutz said Mgsr. Lalwer gave up a career teaching English at seminary to study social work, which led to his later work with Catholic Charities.

“I think I wouldn’t be a priest if it weren’t for him,” Father Strutz said. “He kept me on the straight and narrow. He was a wonderful priest and great friend.”

Monsignor Lawler served his first years in the priesthood as assistant pastor at Holy Family, Watertown, where he was also appointed assistant secretary of Catholic Charities.

“Those first years were very stressful,” Father Strutz said. “He was in charge of establishing nursing homes across the north country. We often talked about it, but he was up for the challenge.”

In 1986, Monsignor Lawler won the Catholic Charities Caritas Award, given annually to those who exemplify a spirit of love and charity. Monsignor Lawler was named a protonotary apostolic in 1995, the highest honor that can be given to a monsignor.

He retired in June 2012 as pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Waddington, and St. John the Baptist Church, Madrid. On March 31, he retired as vicar general for the diocese, a position he held since 1994.

Monsignor Harry K. Snow, who is Monsignor Lawler’s successor to the Waddington and Madrid churches, said Monsignor Lawler will be greatly missed by both communities.

“He was a very revered pastor in terms of his deep care and concern for people,” Monsignor Snow said. “He was the kind of person who epitomized two kinds of love throughout his life and work: the love of God with all your heart and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself and God.”

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