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Catholic priest Michel Mukad, 38, diagnosed with COVID-19, takes his own life next day

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Father Michel

Father Michel Bineen Mukad was an administrator of St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church in Georgetown. (Provided)

GEORGETOWN — Catholic priest Michel Bineen Mukad, administrator of St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church in Georgetown, died Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. He was 38. His self-inflicted death came a day after a diagnosis of COVID-19.

The priest, known to parishioners as "Father Michel," sent out an e-mail to members of the parish Monday night stating he had tested positive for COVID-19 'at the Georgetown Hospital Emergency Room.

"Although I have been released from the ER, the instruction for my self-quarantine for 14 days is going to affect our parish," he wrote.

His e-mail went on to cover details about closing the church office as a precaution to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus to any other people. All parish staff would be getting tested for COVID-19. He also mentioned that the Rev. Ed Fitzgerald, known as "Father Ed," a former pastor of St. Mary’s who is now at St. Michael Church in Garden City Beach, would cover a Mass on Tuesday.

'Horrible news'

During a Wednesday Mass of healing and remembrance, Father Ed related that after he completed a noon Mass on Tuesday, he checked his cellphone for any messages before driving back to Garden City Beach. A fellow priest had sent an urgent message to Father Ed, asking him to call back. He had “horrible news.”

When he made the call, the other priest said he had gotten news that Father Michel was dead.

On Tuesday, members of St. Mary’s at first wondered if Father Michel had died from the virus so soon after testing positive for COVID-19. That was not the case.

During Wednesday’s Mass of healing and remembrance, Father Ed read a letter to the parishioners from Bishop Robert Guglielmone, head of the Diocese of Charleston, which encompasses all of South Carolina.

“It is with great sorrow that I must notify you that police have informed us Father Mukad ended his own life at the young age of 38,” Bishop Guglielmone wrote. “While we do not know the exact circumstances surrounding this tragic event, we do know that he struggled greatly due to the pandemic.”

Awaiting results of autopsy

Georgetown County Coroner Kenny Johnson told the Georgetown Times/Post and Courier that Father Michel was positive for COVID-19, but an autopsy on Wednesday confirmed his death appeared to be from a self-inflicted wound.

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Johnson, who also is pastor of Ringel Heights Baptist Church, said the priest left a note.

Other aspects of an investigation would be underway for several days. He said he expected to have more information by the first part of the week.

Priest for seven years

Mukad was born on Oct. 28, 1982, and is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He was ordained to the priesthood on Oct. 6, 2013 at St. Eugene Catholic Church in Wendell, N.C. After serving more than three years in the Diocese of San Antonio, he moved to South Carolina. During his time in the Diocese of Charleston, he served as parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, administrator at St. Louis Church in Dillon and administrator at St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom in Georgetown.

In his native country, Father Michel grew up speaking French and at least two languages of his part of the country. When he came to the United States, he also learned English and Spanish. Both of those languages served him well in Georgetown. The parishes of St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom and St. Cyprian’s were combined several years ago. There is a large number of members of the combined parish who are Hispanic. He continued offering two Masses in English and one in Spanish each weekend to serve the people of the parish.

Visitation and funeral services

The funeral arrangements for Father Michel are as follows:

A Vigil Service will be Monday. Visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. That will be followed by Mass at 6 p.m. These will be held at St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church, 317 Broad St. in Georgetown.

Funeral Liturgy will be Tuesday at 11 a.m. It will be held at St. John the Baptist Cathedral, 120 Broad St., in Charleston.

The Rite of Committal will follow the Funeral Liturgy at Holy Cross Cemetery, James Island.

The funeral Mass at the Cathedral on Tuesday is expected to be livestreamed for those who are maintaining distancing and/or unable to attend. More information on the live streaming of the Mass will be released by the diocese.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It has long been the practice of the Georgetown Times/Post and Courier to not report that someone has taken his or her own life. In the case of the Rev. Michel Mukad, he was beloved by many and a public figure considering his service to his church constituents. Bishop Robert Guglielmone addressed the situation in a letter to members of St. Mary Our Lady of Ransom Catholic Church.

Reach Nick Masuda at 843-607-0912. Follow him on Twitter at @nickmasudaphoto. 

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