Father Lutz’s mission work is serving people most in need

Father Gerald Lutz relaxes in the rectory at St. Anthony Church in Ridgeland March 21. Father Lutz will transfer to a parish in Butler, Pa.

Father Gerald Lutz relaxes in the rectory at St. Anthony Church in Ridgeland March 21. Father Lutz will transfer to a parish in Butler, Pa.RIDGELAND—Father Gerald Lutz, administrator of St. Anthony Church, is a man of few words, especially when it comes to talking about himself.

For over 50 years, he has been the kind of priest who works quietly behind the scenes with no need for accolades.

His friends and coworkers, however, believe he deserves recognition and are quick to point out what a wonderful priest and person he is.

Father Ronald R. Cellini, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, compares him to St. Joseph. He said Father Lutz is such a good father, always doing for others at the sacrifice of himself, that people naturally take him for granted.

“Father Lutz is extremely intelligent and very kind,” Father Cellini told The Miscellany. “He works hard. He believes priests should do a good job and he doesn’t believe anyone should fuss over him.”

It was Father Lutz’s desire to help in an area with the most need that first brought him to the Diocese of Charleston. He said that was in 1991, and he served as director of Hispanic ministry for three years before being called back to his home diocese of Pittsburgh.  

Since then, the priest has divided his time between Pittsburgh and South Carolina.

“It just depends on where people ask me to help out,” he said in a telephone interview.

Father Lutz returned in 2001 at the request of Father Cellini, who needed help with Hispanic ministry at St. Gregory the Great, St. Peter Church in Beaufort, and Holy Family and St. Francis by the Sea churches on Hilton Head Island.

Father Cellini said that was at the start of the influx of immigrants, and Father Lutz would drive from the Lowcountry, through the Midlands, into the Piedmont, and back again.

He said Father Lutz reached out to people in the migrant camps, celebrated Mass, held retreats, and offered days of recollection.

“Anytime you asked him to do something, his answer was yes,” Father Cellini said.

Karen Widenhouse, parish manager at St. Peter, said she became close with Father Lutz during his time there and remains in touch with the priest.

“He is a very quiet, private, gentle man,” she said by phone. “He really fulfilled the role of father in more ways than one.”

Although he was assigned to Hispanic ministry, Widenhouse said he also helped in other areas. She said the children at St. Peter School loved him, and he visited them and the ladies who make rosaries every week.

Widenhouse said she and the priest have opposite personalities. When she started talking away, he just raised an eyebrow at her and made her laugh. She said he loved to tease in a quiet way.   

She recalled his love of golf and hunting, the old-style golf cap he wears, and how he walked all around campus while reading a prayer book.

But the ministry she remembers most was the adoption program.

Widenhouse said many parishioners went on mission trips to South America to meet the children they financially adopted thanks to Father Lutz.

The priest spent five years in the Beaufort area before returning to Pittsburgh.

His latest stay in the South started in 2008, and Widenhouse said she was disappointed when he was assigned to St. Anthony instead of St. Peter.

Father Lutz said his next appointment will be as a senior priest at St. Paul Church in Butler, Pa.

Although he has officially been retired since 1999, he said he has no plans to slow down.

“As long as I have my health, I intend to serve the Lord in the ministry,” he said.

His vocation was first fostered by his family, which created an atmosphere of great love for the Lord, Father Lutz said.

“I went to Catholic high school. I decided to try seminary to see if I would like it or not and fortunately it turned out very well,” he said.

He was ordained in 1956 and spent his early years in Pittsburgh, where he served in parishes and in Catholic schools as a guidance counselor and headmaster.

The times that stand out most for Father Lutz are his years in Peru with The Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle.

He said he served as a missionary priest on two occasions. On his first trip, from 1965 to 1969, he helped build and run a school for boys. It started with 80 students and was named Mundo Mejor — better world.

On his second mission, Father Lutz served in the slums outside of Lima, Peru. He said mission work was especially memorable because he “was serving God’s people who were in great need.”

Life as a mission priest is very difficult, Father Lutz said, and now that he is in his 80s he could not do that type of work again.

His last visit to Peru was in 1988, but he said he has many friends there and would love to return if the opportunity arose.