SYLACAUGA -- He was a man of great faith who made a difference in so many lives, and not just among Catholics, in Talladega County.
On Friday, those Father Mac Paul Abraham ministered to, those whose confessions he heard and those whose lives he impacted helped to memorialize him with a Sylacauga City Schools Foundation educational chair.
Dr. Joe Morton helped establish the foundation in 1988 and attends St. Jude Catholic Church in Sylacauga. Abraham married Morton and Margaret Livingston Morton.
“On this exceptional day, we are honoring a priest who came here when there were no Catholic churches in the county,” Joe Morton said.
Morton gave a brief history of the priest’s life.
Abraham was born to a Syrian Jew father and a Lebanese Christian mother. He was raised as a Methodist until age 16, when on his own he began to search for a religion that he believed best fit his life.
He studied the Catholicism, became Catholic, entered Loyola’s Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1945.
His first assignment was the North Alabama Missions, particularly the Santa Rosa Missions, and he was assigned to Talladega County. He founded all three Catholic churches in Talladega County -- St. Jude in Sylacauga, Holy Name of Jesus in Childersburg and St. Francis in Talladega.
He ministered to all three church families until 1970, when he was reassigned to Tuscaloosa, where he was a priest at Holy Spirit and St. John Catholic churches. He retired in 1978 and passed away in July 1993.
Morton said Abraham was the Talladega County Catholic spiritual leader, but his reach went well beyond the three Catholic churches.
“If one was in need, Father Abraham offered aid, regardless of one’s religious beliefs or even lack of a belief. His spiritual leadership nurtured generations of youth, and the Father Mac Paul Abraham Chair is a testament to how much he was loved, admired and respected by those who grew with God under his leadership,” Morton said.
The story behind the Abraham educational chair, Morton said, is unique.
Three months after the five children of the late Frank and Dorothy Spencer honored their parents with an educational chair, two of the brothers wanted to honor Abraham by coming up with a $25,000 contribution for a chair.
The Spencers were big supporters of the values of education, hard work, faith and mutual respect, much like Abraham.
The Rev. Robert Spencer, a priest and 1975 graduate of SHS, who now lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and The Most Reverend Bishop Richard Spencer, 1969 SHS graduate, who lives in Europe, wanted to pursue this honor if Morton thought others would join in. They did, and the $25,000 was raised.
At the chair presentation Friday afternoon in the foyer of Sylacauga High School, the Spencer brothers unveiled a plaque on the foundation wall memorializing the chairs.
Father Abraham has the 51st foundation chair.
During the presentation, the Spencer brothers, Harry Heigl, Gary Greer, Margaret Morton, Dan Lucy and others shared memories of Abraham.
Heigl said the presentation was the best one to given the priest.
“It’s an education award,” Heigl said. “Father Abraham had always wanted to build a school on the hill where St. Jude is. He believed in education in religion and life.”
Margaret Morton had cheated in the third grade. She eventually entered the church confessional and told Abraham.
“I confessed I cheated. He shouted out, ‘You did what, Margaret Livingston,’ and it never happened again,” Morton said.
She said the communities and churches were blessed to have the priest. “God so loved our community, he gave us Father Abraham,” she said.
The event’s blessing was given by Father Shobhan Singareddy, while Bishop Robert Baker, bishop of the Northern Diocese of Alabama, provided the concluding blessing.
Jane Vaughn, president of the foundation, said Abraham was a remarkable man who impacted so many lives.
She said in the 30 years since the foundation was formed, a total of $1.9 million had been raised, with $1.2 million spent on 1,141 grants to supplement the needs in classrooms in the system’s four schools. These grants have affected 357,000 students.