New monsignor filled with spirit of St. Louis Pastor oversees booming parish in west county

April 05, 1996|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The Rev. Joseph L. Luca had just settled in as pastor of St. Louis Roman Catholic parish in Clarksville -- one of the fastest-growing in the Baltimore Archdiocese -- when he learned that he had another title: Monsignor.

He is one of nine priests in the archdiocese honored by Pope John Paul II as a Member of the Papal Household.

"A good person's generous efforts have been recognized," said Cardinal William H. Keeler, who recommended Monsignor Luca to the pope for the designation.

Cardinal Keeler cited "the leadership he has given facing major growth challenges" in the archdiocese.

Those skills will come in handy in the western Howard County parish, which extends from Cooksville to Highland.

St. Louis is one of the largest parishes in the Baltimore Archdiocese. About 3,100 families worship at the church, which was designed for 750 people when it opened in 1980 near Route 108 and old Route 32 (Guilford Road). The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in the parish has a waiting list.

On Easter Sunday, St. Louis will celebrate eight Masses in the church and in the school's auditorium. Monsignor Luca and his associate pastor, the Rev. Jeffrey S. Dauses, share the duties with help from Franciscan priests at St. Joseph Cupertino Friary on Folly Quarter Road.

"We're bursting at the seams. We had 200 people standing during the Masses last weekend," Monsignor Luca said. "Each weekend, if we don't get five or six new families, it's a surprise."

Even with five baptisms each week, the earliest opening is May 19.

St. Louis could lose a few parishioners next year when its adjacent mission, St. Francis of Assisi in Fulton, finishes a worship center on Route 216 near U.S. 29 that will be able to accommodate 600 worshipers. The mission now celebrates Mass at Atholton High School.

Cardinal Keeler called Monsignor Luca "ideal to give leadership out there" during a time of growth and change.

The cardinal revealed the pope's Dec. 19 decree during a March 26 meeting attended by the new monsignors, which was scheduled as preparation for the Catholic Church's Celebration of the Third Millennium.

The announcement took Monsignor Luca by surprise. The cardinal was discussing plans for the celebration, then "changed gears and pointed out that the Holy Father had created nine monsignors. I don't know how he kept it a secret. The vicar bishops didn't know until that morning," Monsignor Luca said.

Monsignor Luca's path to Clarksville has stayed predominantly within the Baltimore Archdiocese.

He is the oldest of four brothers born and raised in the Gardenville section of Baltimore.

After graduating from Baltimore City College, he earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy from Resurrection College in Kitchner, Ontario, in 1966. Four years later, he earned his master's degree in theology from Mount Saint Mary's College in Emmitsburg and was ordained.

His first assignment was St. Francis of Assisi on Harford Road in Baltimore, then St. Joseph's in Cockeysville, before he spent 12 years at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middle River, which also offers classes for students in kindergarten through high school.

He left Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1993 to coordinate the archdiocese's Renew program, which "attempts to make Scripture and faith become integrated in an individual's daily life," Monsignor Luca said.

Monsignor Luca became pastor at St. Louis when Monsignor Anthony Sauerwein retired in late February after 28 years as pastor.

Monsignor Luca is "a real special man. He's got a spirit about him when you meet him," said Joseph Barbera, St. Louis Parish Council president.

Though honored by the distinction, the pastor is not a stickler on what people call him. "I don't take it very seriously," he said. "A title's a title. If some say 'Father' instead of 'Monsignor,' it's not an issue. My work's the same."

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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