ST. PAUL, Minn. - A beloved priest known for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for students at the University of St. Thomas has died.
Monsignor James Lavin died Monday morning at the age of 93, but his legacy will last even longer.
"Father Lavin was a gentle, kind soul," said Tim Fischer, who graduated from St. Thomas in 1984.
Fischer, who is now a fundraiser for the university, still carries with him the lessons he learned from Lavin.
"He meant a lot," he said as tears welled up in his eyes. "He was really the soul of St. Thomas."
The beloved priest spent more than seven decades at the university, first as a student then as a staff member. But it's what he served every weekend that is his most savory legacy.
Known as the peanut butter priest, he would invite students to an informal prayer service and then feed them all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
"It didn't dawn on me that later in life that was his call to fellowship," said Fischer. "I can't eat one today without thinking about him."
But at a St. Thomas basketball fundraiser in Mendota Heights Monday night, the stories were not just about those peanut butter sandwiches.
"The nice thing about father, he just gave you as many chances as you needed to succeed in life," said St. Thomas' former head men's basketball coach and current athletic director Steve Fritz.
Fritz also was a student at St. Thomas and remembers the kindness that Lavin showed.
It's that gentle force of good that Fischer recalls as a freshman football player at St. Thomas.
"(He) helped me understand I needed to spend a little more time in the library than the weight room," he said with a smile.
Lavin seemed to have positive influence on every person with which he came in contact.
"I literally had a visit with a guy who said Father Lavin lent him his car in order to take out a girl who eventually became his wife," he said.
Fischer last spoke with Lavin a few weeks ago after he found out the priest did not have much longer.
"He was in bed and didn't talk much, but smiled and asked me about my kids like he always did," he recalled.
University of St. Thomas said Lavin died of natural causes during a morning mass celebrated in his room at his nursing home. When the priest ended the mass by saying, "Go in peace," he apparently breathed his last breath.
"He was a really good man," said Fischer.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)