In memory of Msgr. Sterker


On Aug. 30, the Diocese of Charleston lost a truly saintly priest. Msgr. Louis F. Sterker was a priest in every sense of the word. He served his Master, his bishops and his people with unwavering loyalty, holiness and dedication.

I first met Father Sterker in 1947 when I was a first-grade students at Cathedral School in Charleston. Upon his arrival at the Cathedral parish he was welcomed by his pastor, Msgr. James J. May, who was experiencing failing health. Father Sterker was called upon to perform all of the duties of an assistant and many of the duties of a pastor.

During the late ’40s the parish and the Church were our life and Father Sterker our heartbeat.

As a young boy eager to become an altar boy, I, and many of my friends, pestered Father Sterker to teach us how to serve on the altar. Teach us he did.

This space does not allow me to relate all of the countless stories about Father Sterker and his devotion to his people. … He was always there, never passing the buck, never complaining of not having time off from work, and always doing what he dedicated his life to God to do, serving others.

A fact not widely known about Father Sterker is that he didn’t get a driver’s license until rather late in his life. The real reason, as he confided to me later, was that he loved the Cathedral parish and its people so much, he was afraid that if he learned to drive the bishop might transfer him to another parish. His reticence proved effective. In 24 years at the Cathedral, he always had a willing driver.

I marvel at how quickly 52 years have flown. After reading of Father Sterker’s death I rummaged through some of my old scrapbooks and papers. Time was brought into perspective when I realized that Father Sterker had signed my diploma from Cathedral School in 1955 and my marriage license 10 years later.

Last summer, I called Father Sterker in Columbia to ask him if he could possibly preside at the marriage of my son. He was genuinely sorry to tell me that he had a wedding on the same day and that he really didn’t think he could make the round trip to Charleston in one day. He had to be back in Columbia the next morning for Sunday Mass. At age 77, he was still serving his Master and his people.

In all of our lives there are people whom we assume will never die. They will always be there for us; we can talk to them tomorrow. But the reality of life is that we all pass away and lost opportunities can never be regained.

Other than my own father, I do not know of any other man who has had a more profound effect on my life than Father Sterker. I don’t know if I ever told him.

Thomas F. Hartnett is a St. Mary’s Church parishioner and former member of the U.S. Congress