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‘Father Robert’ comes to Church of the Visitation

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‘Father Robert’

by Tom Chillemi

Father Robert Cummins became administrator of The Church of the Visitation in Topping and Saint Frances deSales in Mathews on July 1. Although his official title is “administrator,” his duties will be the same as a pastor.

“Father Robert,” as Father Cummins prefers, comes to Middlesex from Saint Therese, a 900-family parish in Chesapeake, where he was pastor for 11 years.

Father Robert fills the void left by the May 19 death of Father John Boddie, who had been pastor of the two churches for nearly 12 years.

Parishioners there would describe Father Robert, 63, as compassionate, non-judgmental and a good listener. “I left there with some reluctance,” he said. “But, I love it here. I’m so happy.”

One difference, he explained, is that some large Catholic churches hold three masses on Sunday, and another one Saturday evening. In the Middlesex and Mathews Catholic churches, everyone goes to the same mass at their respective churches. “The whole congregation comes together at one time, and that has done wonderful things and made them closer,” he said.

Father Robert, welcomes those who may have drifted away from church. “I wish they’d come back and give us a chance.”

Daily prayer sustains Father Robert. “If I pray in the morning and evening, I don’t have those roller coaster ups and downs from stress,” he said.

He recalled that a spiritual advisor told him while he was in the seminary that she could tell, by the way he was talking, he had not been praying. “She was right,” he admitted.

Helping people also is uplifting, he said. “If you are with people when they laugh and cry, you are part of them.” Their stories strengthen his relationship with his people, he explained.

Long before he was Father Robert, he was a batboy at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where he grew up. In 1961 and 1962, he was batboy for visiting teams that played the Chicago Cubs; and he was lucky enough to be the batboy for the American League in the 1962 All-Star Game.

Father Robert’s family roots are in Paducah, Kentucky. He was born a Baptist and converted to Catholicism in the seventh grade in Chicago.

His calling to the priesthood started while working with a firm that trained priests to be facilitators. Some of them became friends, and that was when he first asked what was involved in becoming a priest.

Father Robert’s curiosity about the priesthood stayed with him for years. “I had an itch and the more I scratched it, the stronger it got, until I couldn’t ignore it,” he said.

By 1982 he was a high level administrator for Thom McAn shoes. However, once he mastered a job, he lost interest, he said. “I never held the same job more than three years. They were never fulfilling. I thought that once I got a good job with good money I’d be happy, but I wasn’t.”

Still unsure if he had a vocation, the revelation came at mass one Sunday. The Gospel of Matthew talked about the disciples being “fishers of men.” His eyes filled with emotional tears. “I felt like it was talking to me,” he said.

He went through a battery of tests and interviews and completed five years of rigorous graduate work at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. “They challenged me to do things I never thought I could do,” he said.

He was never sure he had the vocation to be a priest—even as he was being ordained in 1986. “I prayed to God that I would do the right thing,” said Father Robert.

While serving as assistant pastor in Virginia Beach, he was asked to become a pastor of another church. Self doubt held him back. Father Robert attended a 10-week program to learn how the handling of personal needs affected one’s happiness. He learned he had let his time management get out of control. “Sometimes you have to say ‘no,’ “ he said.

After a year in Ethiopia and another year caring for his terminally-ill mother, he came back to be administrator of Our Lady of Nazareth in Roanoke.

Father Robert lives in Hartfield with two dogs that he rescued from a shelter.

Longtime parishioner Carole McPherson of Urbanna said, “Father Robert has used a great approach in getting to know us and our ministries.  He is friendly, forthright, energetic, and has a great sense of humor. Important to me, the Holy Spirit has always been my advocate, and I feel he is just bursting with the Spirit.”

posted 07.22.2009

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