The Rev. Patrick Cooper.
Growing up in Moultrie, Ga., and Columbus, Ga., the thought of becoming a Catholic priest was not something Patrick Cooper ever considered.
Though raised in the Catholic faith, Cooper set out in his teen years to become an engineer.
From 1966-72, he earned three engineering degrees from Georgia Tech – the last one was a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1972 – and served four years in the U.S. Navy before being separated from active duty in 1970 as a full lieutenant.
Then came what seemed to be a permanent-until-retirement job, when Cooper went to work for Babcock & Wilcox Co., a firm involved in the nation's power generation industry. He stayed 15 years and moved up through the ranks.
"I was happy as an engineer," said Cooper, 59, now pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Simpsonville.
But somewhere along the line, in all the numbers and calculations of his job, Cooper got what he described as a call to the priesthood.
Though not elaborating on how it happened, Cooper gave up his job and his former life to enter the priesthood.
"It wasn't sudden, it happened gradually," he said. "It's not something I chose for myself."
Cooper then threw himself into his calling with everything he had.
First, he had to go back to school – this time to Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmittsburg, Maryland, where he received Master of Divinity in 1990 and a Master of Arts in 1991.
That same year, he was ordained as a Catholic priest and ready for parish work.
"I was scared to death when I started out," he said. "But I recognized a call and I answered it."
In next nine years, that call took him to several parishes – St. Mary's in Greenville, 1991-93; Our Lady of the Valley in Gloverville, S.C., 1993-94; and St. Peter's in Cheraw, 1994-2000, during which time he was also responsible for two mission churches: St. Earnest in Pageland and St. Denis in Bennettsville; and now at the 830-family St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
"My job is to preach, teach and live the truth – and to help people under my care realize that truth in their lives," he said.
But Cooper said that trying to get that truth across is not an easy task.
"I'm not doing this because it's a fun job," he said. "I'm trying to preach the truth in a culture that seems bent on self-destruction."
He cited abortion as the biggest example of that.
"We live in a culture where our society permits the killing of 4,000-plus innocent human beings per day in their mothers' wombs, and some within mere inches of the completion of birth," he said. "And that should indicate that there's something seriously wrong in our culture."
To him, his call to the priesthood is a way to battle that culture through the example set forth by Jesus Christ.
And, as it was when he was an engineer, it's not a responsibility that Cooper takes lightly.
"When I was an engineer, I had a tremendous amount of responsibility," he said. "To go from that – a relatively narrow focus that you can get your arms around – to this idea of infinity is terrifying, especially when you consider that as a priest I must accept responsibility as an instrument (minister) of the Gospel for the salvation of souls."
And unless he gets a calling to change, Cooper expects to carry that responsibility wherever he is called.
"The Truths of the Gospel are the operating instructions for the human race given to us by God," he said. "If we follow God's law, then we're going to be truly happy."
Rev Patrick Cooper
Engineer and Catholic Priest