Monsignor James Lavin, a much-beloved facet of the University of St. Thomas, passed away Monday at the Little Sisters of the Poor residence near downtown St. Paul. He was 93.
Lavin devoted his life to serving the university community, which is where he lived for more than 75 years. Countless students say they came to think of him as a guardian angel on campus.
"I don't know how he found me, but he did -- another broke kid who could barely afford to be in college," recalled Fred Soucie.
In 1968, Soucie was just another scared freshman Lavin took under his wing. He remembers fondly how the priest would pay him generously for simple errands and odd jobs.
"I believe in my heart that if ever a saint walked the face of the Earth, it's Father James Lavin," he told FOX 9 News.
When Soucie -- a student athlete -- got injured, Lavin took it upon himself to make sure that his grades didn't suffer.
"I didn't ask him, but he went to every one of my professors and he developed a plan for how I was going to get through that semester with a broken thumb and a separated shoulder," Soucie recalled.
In 1936, a young Lavin moved into Ireland Hall as a freshman known as "Scooter." He never really left -- and he would later become known as the "peanut butter priest." In fact, his tradition of "Lavin burgers" continued until his retirement.
"Loaves of bread and jars and peanut butter -- and all of this was open, and jars of preserves so that any student in the place could go over to Father Lavin's and help themselves to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," recalled Soucie. "It became the Lavin Burger."
Lavin was a teacher and counselor, but more importantly -- Soucie said he was a friend and father figure to those who needed it most. He was even wiling to bend the rules and look the other way when it came to pets in the dorms.
"That's one of my favorite memories of Father Lavin," Soucie said. "Outside playing with my illegal puppy -- and sometimes he would come and get the puppy just to play with it and then he would bring it back in."
After spending over three quarters of a century at the school, students say Lavin's spirit has become part of the school's heart and soul.
"Father Lavin's spirit is one of the great things about the University of St. Thomas, and I think that will remain the case even though he's not with us anymore," Soucie said.
Lavin died of natural causes at the end of an early-morning Mass celebrated in his room by Father Joseph Johnson, pastor of Holy Family parish in St. Louis Park. Johnson had anointed Lavin and given him Communion shortly before he died.
Lavin's funeral is expected to be held later this week on the St. Thomas campus.