'People's Priest' Lutz Dies

By Maureen O'Donnell
Daily Southtown [Chicago IL]
January 17, 2006

The Rev. Robert Lutz was known as a priest who listened to the congregation.

"He was a people's priest; that's for sure," said Bishop Thad Jakubowski. "He was really for the people. He listened to them. He took their advice. He was not one to be pushy."

The Rev. Lutz, who served for 44 years in the parishes of Chicago's Roman Catholic Archdiocese, was named pastor emeritus at St. Norbert Parish in 1994 after a 10-year stint as pastor. He served the previous 10 years as pastor at St. Mary Star of the Sea on the Southwest Side.

The 81-year-old priest died of heart failure Thursday while visiting friends in Wisconsin.

He was a valued mentor to younger priests such as the Rev. Don Woznicki of St. Norbert. When he was younger and less experienced, Woznicki struggled as he tried to make sermons meaningful.

"He would see me wrestling a lot with what I'm going to say and how I was going to say it," Woznicki said. "And he would say: 'You're just putting it out there, and from your mouth to the people's hearts, it's the Holy Spirit.' "

When a "rookie" priest was anxious about parish responsibilities, Woznicki said, "In so many words, he would say 'Relax — ultimately, God is running this church.' "

That trust in God helped the Rev. Lutz, friends said, when a lawsuit accused him and a female school principal of molesting a 7-year-old boy at St. Norbert in the 1980s. A jury exonerated them after a civil trial, and Northbrook police said an investigation by the Cook County state's attorney's office determined the charges by the boy's parents were unfounded.

"He felt no ill feelings toward anyone," Jakubowski said. "He was a man of prayer."

Nonetheless, the Rev. Lutz filed a defamation lawsuit against the boy's parents and reached a settlement. Advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse said such lawsuits could intimidate victims. Friends countered that he had endured a five-year wait for vindication.

The Rev. Lutz enjoyed socializing with other priests, and he organized an annual Christmas reunion with priests he had ministered with in other parishes.

He was an assistant pastor from 1950 to 1961 at St. Aloysius Parish on the Northwest Side; from 1961 to 1966 at St. Isaac Jogues, Glenview; from 1966 to 1972 at Queen of the Rosary Parish, Elk Grove Village; from 1972 to 1973 at St. John Chrysostom Parish, Bellwood; and from 1973 to 1975 at St. Robert Bellarmine on the Northwest Side.

A native of Chicago, the Rev. Lutz was ordained in 1950, having graduated from Quigley Seminary in 1943.

He resided at the Bishop Lyne Residence for retired priests in Lemont. Even at the end of his life, he fought aches and pains to help overworked priests, easing their duties by saying Masses, Woznicki said.

A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. today at St. Norbert Church, 1809 Walters Ave., Northbrook. Burial will be at St. Mary Cemetery in Evergreen Park.


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