COLUMBIA—Members of St. John Neumann Church say Father Frederick F. Masad has an uncanny ability to remember names and faces.
This skill is evident after Masses, when he waits by a side door and greets nearly everyone by name. He remembers details of peoples’ lives, asks them about their health and their children, and proudly points out the parish’s oldest member, a 92-year-old man who served as a tail gunner on a bomber in World War II in Europe.
It’s no wonder he knows so much about the people at St. John, because he has served as their pastor for 22 years. He celebrates his 50th jubilee this year.
“The people here have been wonderful to me,” he said. “They are wonderful, faithful, first order Catholics. I’ve baptized people here, married them and in many cases buried members of the parish. I’m now holding weddings for the children of couples whose weddings I celebrated.”
In June, Father Masad will begin a new era in his vocation. He plans to retire after the end of the school year at St. John Neumann School, just up the road from the church.
The South Carolina native hopes to stay in the Midlands during retirement, living in the same house that has served as his rectory since he came to Columbia in 1988.
One of five children, he was born in the capital city and baptized in historic St. Peter Church on Assembly Street.
His late father Frederick was Lebanese-American and a Maronite Catholic. His late mother Kathleen came from a mostly German community in Lexington County, and was Lutheran before becoming a Catholic.
The family lived in Florence, Sumter, and finally Bishopville, following his father’s job with the A&P grocery chain.
Father Masad spent most of his childhood in Bishopville and graduated from high school in the small Lee County town, where Roman Catholics were, and still are, a distinct minority.
Bishopville was considered a mission town, and priests would visit from nearby Hartsville to celebrate Mass and offer sacraments. At one point, the Masads were one of the only active Catholic families.
Father Masad first thought he might have a vocation in the fourth grade. By the seventh grade he knew he wanted to be both a teacher and a priest.
He was inspired by the example of Father Louis Williamson, a priest who served in Hartsville for many years. According to Father Masad, Father Williamson converted from the Presbyterian denomination and his love of Catholicism showed in everything he did.
“I saw him practicing what he preached, the way he celebrated the liturgy,” Father Masad said. “He encouraged me all along the way.”
Father Masad entered seminary immediately after high school in 1952, and studied at St. Bernard Abbey in Alabama and Catholic University in Washington.
He was ordained May 21, 1960, at St. Peter in Columbia.
The next 28 years included assignments at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph and Church of the Nativity in Charleston; St. Joseph Church in Columbia; Stella Maris Church on Sullivans Island; St. Mary Church in Hartsville; St. Anthony Church in Florence; and Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia. Father Masad also worked as a chaplain at St. Francis Bon Secours Hospital in Charleston and taught at Bishop England High School for several years.
He enjoyed all of his assignments but said his most lasting work has been at St. John Neumann.
The church and the school have grown dramatically in the past 20 years. The parish has long been one of the most diverse in the Midlands, with Filipino, Hispanic, Korean and Vietnamese members. People from different states and nations are drawn to the area by nearby Fort Jackson, the University of South Carolina and local industries.
The parish offered one of the first regular Spanish Masses in the Midlands and holds frequent international events.
“The people here have kept the faith and lived their faith,” Father Masad said. “They’ve worked to help pay off parish debt and to expand our facilities.”
Parishioners speak highly of their long-time priest.
“He’s just really been the good shepherd of everything at St. John Neumann, the church, all the members and the school,” said retired U.S. Army Col. James Higgins. He and his wife Georgia have been parishioners since the early 1990s.
“The church and the school have grown so much over the years,” he said, “and he’s worked really hard to make it a really comfortable Catholic community all the way around. He’s a wonderful man doing a pretty tough job, and he’s going to be missed.”
In his free time, Father Masad enjoys traveling, reading history and collecting antiques. During retirement, he’d also like to take classes, volunteer and serve as a supply priest for area parishes.
“The best part of my work is being able to be with the lay people, to deal with them on a personal basis and help them,” Father Masad said. “It’s also such a privilege to celebrate the Eucharist together. That is so important to us as Catholic people.”
He encourages young men considering a vocation to make kindness the center of their mission.
“If you can practice kindness to all people, then you can do all kinds of things,” he said. “It’s important to relate to people as human beings, then relate to them as an ordained priest. If you relate to them first with kindness, then you can relate to them as Christians and then talk to them about the faith, about doctrine and worship. With the increased diversity of Catholics in this diocese, we need to be able to practice our faith with tolerance and understanding.”
He sees recent difficulties and challenges for the worldwide church as just part of a cycle.
“These times are no worse than others the church has faced,” Father Masad said. “If you know anything about history and the history of the church, you know there have been difficulties in the past. What’s going on today doesn’t shake my faith at all. Nothing can shake the truth of the Gospel. If you have that truth, you can live it and spread it around.”