The Hamilton-Wenham Rotary Club honored Rev. Louis Bourgeois with its highest honor on Friday for his nearly two decades of service to the community.
Bourgeois, in turn, said it was the Rotary that helped welcome him to Hamilton when he arrived in 1993.
Bourgeois, known affectionately as “Father B,” retired last June from the in Hamilton.
At the local Rotary club’s morning meeting at the , Bourgeois was given the Paul Harris award.
“It’s the biggest award Rotary can award anyone,” said Rotarian Harry Weinstein.
He was given a Harris medal, certificate of recognition as a Paul Harris fellow and a lapel pin.
The Hamilton-Wenham Rotary Club typically gives out the Harris award two to three times per year.
“All I did was do what I was ordained to do – be the best priest possible,” he said to a crowd that included special guests of family and friends.
Bourgeois specifically credited Rotary for the welcoming feeling it offered when he arrived in Hamilton 18 years ago.
While many people who transfer for work do so with their family, priests arrive alone.
“We come in with a suitcase, knock on the door and say ‘I’m your new pastor,’” he said.
Rotary helped him adjust and made he feel welcome when he was walking down Railroad Avenue, for example, and run into someone he knew.
“I felt that there were people who knew me,” he said.
Before coming to Hamilton, Bourgeois was pastor at in Salem for 12 years. Since retiring, he has returned to Salem, where he lives with other retired priests at .
But since leaving Hamilton, Bourgeois has not lost his connection, according to Arthur Abbott.
"He still finds time to contact so many of us in the community, which we are grateful for," he said in the many words of honor offered for Bourgeois.
Bourgeois also served at in Wakefield, in Waltham and in Dedham.
Parishioner and Rotarian Mike Abbott said he rearranged a business trip to make sure he was at Friday morning’s Rotary meeting. The two people who shaped his life the most have been his mother and Bourgeois.
“He taught us service above self,” he said.
Ed Hogan said Bourgeois provided the support he needed when Hogan’s wife Joanie was dying at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“It meant so much to all of us,” he said.
Other speakers – some who spoke from their seats and other who got up to the podium- said Bourgeois’ impact was felt far beyond the walls of St. Paul’s. He helped youth in the two towns, especially after the death of Gabe Pacione, a high school senior from Wenham who was killed in a car crash in 2008.
Chief Ken Walsh said he has several family members in Salem and knows Father B’s impact there too.
“He touched so many people in that city,” Walsh said.
In Wenham, he said he saw a lot of people he encountered in police work who have been “down on their luck" turn to Bourgeois.
Rev. Mike Duda, pastor at , said he enjoyed the monthly morning coffees Bourgeois hosted for religious leaders in the two towns.