Crux’s Sunday spirituality columnist, Father Jeffrey Kirby, has received South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, from the state’s Governor Nikki Haley. A ceremony presenting Kirby with the award was staged in mid-October in the South Carolina Statehouse.

Ordained by Bishop Robert Baker (now of Birmingham Alabama) in 2007, Kirby is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina. Among other things, that makes him one of two Crux contributors in the state, as Father Dwight Longenecker also serves in Greenville, S.C.

From 2010 to 2015, Kirby served as vicar of vocations for the diocese. Currently, he’s the administrator of Our Lady of Grace, the newest parish in the diocese, located in Indian Land, S.C. He’s also the administrator of St. Joseph’s Parish in Chester, S.C.

In the governor’s letter granting the award, Haley wrote: “As a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, and as a guide for young adults in the process of vocational discernment, you have been a source of encouragement and guidance for countless people.”

“Through your spoken and written words, you exemplify faith, love, and service in action, and your works will inspire others for generations to come. In the world of making a positive difference, you have been an incredibly effective leader to those around you,” she wrote.

Kirby attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio before entering seminary at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He holds a doctorate in moral theology from the Holy Cross University, and is an adjunct professor of theology at Belmont Abbey College outside of Charlotte, N.C.

An accomplished commentator and writer, Kirby’s work is published by Saint Benedict Press and Catholic Scripture Study International. He’s the author of several books, including Lord, Teach Us To Pray, and is the host of the national Christian formation program Doors of Mercy as well as the video course A Tour of St. Peter’s Square and Basilica.

His latest work is a DVD Bible study program entitled Luke: The Gospel of Mercy.

The ceremony for the Order of the Palmetto was delegated to Senator Tom Young of Aiken, S.C. by Haley. In his opening comments, Young joked: “We’re told to expect the unexpected…Having grown up Southern Baptist and becoming a Methodist, I never would have expected that I would be giving the Order of the Palmetto to a Catholic priest.”

“Most of my work…has been—and is—motivated by the strong conviction that religion has a place in the public forum and that its contribution can edify and enrich public life,” Kirby said in accepting the award.

“Contrary to the religious extremism we see in our day, my work has been to show that good religion can bring about good things, very human things, things that make society and culture a better place to live and a more nourished environment in which the human spirit can flourish and soar.”