Sometimes, the stories the Rev. Lawrence Carney encounters are so amazing that even he admits they can be hard to believe.
“One day, I was walking on the sidewalk and this St. Joseph city truck pulled up to the curb and said ‘Father, do you remember me? You blessed me at the Haven House when I was homeless. I asked if you would pray for me to get a job,’” Carney says. “He said ‘Ever since that day, everything has changed.’”
The man had gotten a temporary job, Carney says, followed up by a part-time job, which became a full-time job and later a promotion.
“He said ‘Now I have benefits and I work 40 hours a week. I want to thank you for that blessing,’” Carney says. “I said ‘I don’t know if anyone is going to believe this. Can you send an email to me?’”
So the man did, logging another story, one of many that the priest says are now mounting in his third year in St. Joseph. Carney, an ordained Catholic priest originally from Wichita, Kansas, came to St. Joseph in early 2014 to walk the streets, praying the rosary and meeting people.
“The stories continue to multiply,” he says. “I start to see people over and over again. That’s where you can see that God is working on them. It’s very interesting what they have to say.”
During the afternoon six days a week, he walks from his current home at St. James Catholic Church, praying the rosary while he walks. He estimates he talks to 10 people a day, totaling between 2,000 and 5,000 different people in the last three years. He gives out rosary beads and miraculous medals, answers questions and prays with people if they approach him.
“Almost every day, people come and they confess,” he says. “... People have a need to confess because there is so much sadness in the world. When we turn to God and allow him to rule our life, then we become happy. I want to give that to other people. When we give charity, it’s free. The more that we give, the more that we receive.”
Despite many positive stories, the work isn’t without challenges, Carney says. Missouri summers can be hot and humid, and not everyone he encounters is receptive or polite, he says.
“Sometimes the people make fun, but as someone was telling me, our Lord is pleased when we imitate him and people would make fun of him, too. What I do is I say a prayer for these people,” he says. “... I ask for Mary to save those graces because they rejected the grace of speaking kindly to a priest and that maybe someday they will have a change of heart and they can receive the grace of living for God.”
His ultimate goal is to have other men join him in the ministry to eventually form the Canons Regular of St. Martin of Tours in St. Joseph, a model of monastic life that blends contemplative and apostolic practices and dates back almost 1600 years, Carney says.
“Canons Regular are known for being on a spectrum between being completely contemplative like monks that go out in the country their whole life and being active, like diocesan priests who serve the parishes,” he says. “... We want to be in that mix, mostly contemplative, but sometimes coming out to the apostolate. We would be monks at home in our monastery and apostles abroad.”
Currently, prayer is the biggest need, Carney says.
“We are still in the stages where prayer is the main means to make this happen,” he says. “When we submit ourselves to God and to the reign of Christ the King and to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our queen as good subjects with a good prayer life, then these things will have their due course.”
In 2015, Carney was approached by an Arizona-based publisher about producing a book about his experiences. It will hopefully be published this year, he says. Carney also celebrates Mass daily with the nuns of Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Gower, Missouri.
Although he prays as he walks, he encourages people to approach him as desired and is optimistic about the future in St. Joseph and wherever else he is needed, Carney says.
“At the end of our life, it’s important to look back and say ‘How did I serve God?’” he says. “Because if we gave him everything, we are going to be happy at that moment.”