Msgr. Sterker laid to rest: ‘He was our priest and our friend’


COLUMBIA — The neighborhood around St. Joseph Church was overflowing Sept. 2 with cars and people from all over the state united in love for their friend and priest, Msgr. Louis Sterker, 78, whose Mass of Christian Burial was being celebrated that morning. The sanctuary was filled with almost 40 fellow priests who concelebrated Mass for this legendary figure of the Diocese of Charleston.

Bishop David B. Thompson presided at the service, and Msgr. Charles Rowland was the celebrant of the Mass. Serving as pallbearers were Msgr. Lawrence McInerny, Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, Msgr. Christopher Lathem, Father Jerome Schwab, Father James Parker, and Father Frank Travis.

“It is a hard task to bury someone we love. Let us make a hard task holy,” said Msgr. Lehocky, pastor of St. Peter Church in Columbia, who gave a homily of hope and joyful memories. Msgr. Lehocky shared with the congregation thoughts from people whose lives were greatly touched by Msgr. Sterker. The pastor of St. Peter’s mentioned what one close friend said, “He met everyone with affection and enthusiasm and we just felt better about ourselves when we were around him.”

At the conclusion of the homily, Msgr. Lehocky challenged the friends of Msgr. Sterker: “As we lay him (Msgr. Sterker) down in the arms of God, who had shown himself in this man, let us honor this man by giving of ourselves more generously to God.”

Bishop Thompson, administrator of the diocese, also had some thoughts to share about this man. “Let me tell a story about a great storyteller,” said the bishop, sharing an incident during one Christmas together. “Msgr. Sterker loved to decorate for Christmas. The house was filled with greenery. It so happened that we had an efficient housekeeper who removed all of it,” said Bishop Thompson, remembering how Msgr. Sterker just bought the greenery and decorated all over again without anger or duress. “St. Francis de Sales said, ‘The measure of love is to love without measure.’ Monsignor, thank you for doing just that!”

Other guests shared similar stories of how Msgr. Sterker did not “sweat the small stuff” and had a way of making one feel at home, especially in the church. Tom Dodds, a long-time parishioner of St. Joseph’s, spoke of the monsignor impacted on three generations in his family. First, he touched his father, a Greyhound bus driver and new convert, who attended Sunday Mass at Msgr. Sterker’s parish in Charleston. “My father felt uneasy about wearing the uniform and being a new Catholic, but monsignor always made him feel welcomed,” said Dodds. Many years later, he saw Msgr. Sterker’s compassion again when his son served his first Mass was with Msgr. Sterker, who gently guided this beginner through the Mass. “When you looked into his face, it was like you were looking into the face of Jesus,” said Dodds.

His influence was far reaching. Janet Hay, a parishioner at St. Peter’s, relayed thoughts from her son Michael, a sixth grader at St. Peter’s. “He said he was really going to miss Msgr. Sterker, who often said Mass for the students, because he liked the stories he told about when he was a child growing up during the Depression,” said Hay.

Bob Collins from St. Joseph remembers the lighter side of Msgr. Sterker. “He was not only a priest and a gentleman but he could tell a good joke,” and he spontaneously told one of his favorites.

Leaving the church, everyone seemed to try to follow Msgr. Lehocky’s advice and with smiles, the people left happier despite the tears shed for the loss of their friend and priest.

Msgr. Lehocky’s homily at the Mass of Christian Burial will appear in next week’s issue of The Miscellany.