Editor’s note: Fr. George William Rutler was ordained in the Anglican Church 50 years ago today. All of the friends and followers wishing to mark the occasion with him wouldn’t fit in Yankee Stadium. We offer a small selection here.
I was first blessed to meet Father George Rutler in Rome, where he was completing his studies before ordination as a Roman Catholic priest and I, as a Roman Catholic priest, was studying Canon Law. We resided together at the Casa Santa Maria dell’Umiltà, the original Pontifical North American College and now the residence of the College for priests who are doing graduate studies. We came from completely different backgrounds, for I am the son of small dairy farming family in Wisconsin, imbued with a wonderful Catholic spirituality marked by its Irish roots. But we shared the same love for the Apostolic Tradition, especially as we experience it in the Sacred Liturgy. It was indeed a gift to get to know Father Rutler, even as I have been grateful to meet him on various occasions in the intervening some forty years, even though we have never lived in the vicinity of one another.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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I cannot pretend to pay tribute to all the richness of Father Rutler’s life given totally to Christ and His Bride, the Church, first as an Anglican priest and then as a Roman Catholic priest. I choose one aspect of the richness, which I trust will honor the abundant working of divine grace through his priestly heart and hands. Father Rutler has tirelessly put his extraordinary gifts of knowledge of the Catholic faith and of communication of the faith at the service of the truth. His life experience, first as an Anglican and then as a Roman Catholic priest, has equipped him to understand that it is only by serving faithfully the truth that a priest can also exercise pastoral charity, that only by his faithful preaching of the truths of the faith that a priest can lead souls in the way of life, the way to eternal life.
With so many, I thank God for the vocation, ordination and mission of Father George Rutler. With deepest esteem and affection, I wish for him many more and fruitful years.
— Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
I have had the opportunity in my life to meet scores of people with exceptional intellects. They all have at least one thing in common, they are acutely aware of their own brilliance. What makes Father Rutler unique is his application of that intellect to the glory of and service to God not himself. Even more remarkable is that he plies his trade to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ in a city whose iconoclastic ruling and cultural elites reject, despise and seek to silence the truth.
For the hearty few that remain, he is the true shepherd who commits his wit, wisdom and encyclopedic knowledge to elevate, motivate, educate, entertain, challenge and reassure. Thanks to his writings and the Internet this parish priest has expanded St. Michael the Archangels’ boundaries well beyond Hell’s Kitchen.
The Church is cursed with a dearth of faithful apologists who can capture the ears of a distracted flock so lacking in formation. As one who for most of my life was part of that flock, thank you for having the voice of the Good Shepherd. You have helped me, Karen and my family on our journey home.
— Senator Rick Santorum
From Robert Hugh Benson to Ronald Arbuthnot Knox to George William Rutler?
Doesn’t quite have the rhythm of Tinker-to-Evers-to Chance, does it? And doubtless some will find it a stretch to suggest that Father Rutler, who entered the ministry of the Episcopal Church fifty years ago, is in a line of quasi-apostolic succession with Benson and Knox. After all, the carpers will ask, was Rutler the son of an Anglican bishop, like Benson and Knox? Did Father Rutler write one of Pope Francis’s two favorite novels? Did he translate the entire Vulgate Bible into modern (and scintillating) English?
Well, no, he wasn’t, and he didn’t. But then insofar as I’m aware, neither Father Benson nor Father Knox was a competitive pugilist, a fine painter, or a gifted violinist. So full points to Rutler for those distinctive accomplishments.
Moreover, the closer one looks at these three lives, the more one is struck by the similarities among these men, who left the Anglicanism of their youth to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church and be ordained as Catholic priests.
They were each convinced that Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human life: which is to say, they were all radically converted Christian disciples. Each gave up a lot to follow the call of conscience and embrace Catholicism, and each experienced what Dorothy Day called the “long loneliness” of the convert, especially the celibate convert. Each had literary flair as well as theological sophistication. Each of them (and especially Knox and Rutler) drew legions of disciples, more than a few of whom also found their way into the priesthood. And they all brought the best of the Anglican patrimony to Catholicism, enriching the Church in the process.
So on this anniversary, I should like to say Father Rutler what Henry VIII didn’t say to his first five wives: ad multos gloriosque annos!
— George Weigel
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Ethics & Public Policy Institute
Congratulations to the Pastor of Hell’s Kitchen on the 50th anniversary of his Anglican ordination. Many here will pay just tribute to George Rutler’s wit and good humor, his facility with the English language, his capacious and wide-ranging mind, his powers of polemic and uplift, his gift for friendship, and on and on. But let me just say, as one New Yorker to a great New Yorker: Thank you, Father, for bringing the light of Jesus Christ to Gotham, day in, day out, but especially on our darkest day. Ad multos annos!
— Sohrab Ahmari
Op-Ed Editor, New York Post
No one has contributed more exciting intellectual contributions, in my opinion, during this generation than you. You are a peer of the best and you are an instructor to all.
— Lewis Lehrman
Though not yet a Catholic, I had been studying the Faith for years and had been corresponding with William F. Buckley on the subject. This went on for some time until, at last, I was ready for a priest. I told Buckley as much, but for weeks and weeks he didn’t answer. I figure he was skiing in Gstaad.
Then, one morning, I was watching WFB’s show Firing Line, and there he was: Buckley’s answer to my priest problem. A very young Fr. George Rutler was discussing Liberation Theology with Monsignor William Smith of New York’s St. Joseph Seminary. Father Rutler was so brilliant, so articulate, sporting the very last mid-Atlantic accent.
I wrote him a letter that Sunday and mailed it that Monday. He called Tuesday morning. (Even now, one-day delivery in Manhattan is a miracle.) I met him at Our Lady of Victory Church near Wall Street. We sat in his book-lined study and talked for an hour, and I didn’t understand a thing he said, including “and” and “the.” He was way over my head. He’s over everyone’s head, though we’re grateful he has subsequently learned to speak to mere mortals.
Father Rutler became a life-long friend, and even asked me to serve on the parish council at Our Savior on Park Avenue. I told him I didn’t much believe in democracy in the Church, so I would serve with the understanding that I would do whatever he wanted. He said, “Austin, you are my kind of man.”
Father Rutler is among the most remarkable men and priests I have ever known. I commend to you all of his books, especially the one on St. John Vianney.
— Austin Ruse
President, Center for Family & Human Rights
The Church and the world would be better places if Father Rutler had been tapped long ago to be Cardinal Archbishop of New York. As it is, you should make a special trip down to the Hudson Yards. Stop into St. Michaels and see what I am talking about.
The Church, certainly in the English speaking world, has always had difficulty knowing how to use gifted and intelligent convert clergy. One only has to think of figures like Ronald Knox, Robert Hugh Benson and Richard John Neuhaus. Perhaps the most obvious example is the recently canonized St. John Henry Newman. Fifty years ago, another gifted convert, Fr. George Rutler, began his ministry as a pastor with ordination in the Anglican Church.
After ordination as a Catholic priest, too able and effective for ecclesiastical advancement, he found his true home as a parish priest in, what he always calls, the greatest city in the world. Much is made today of “accompaniment,” despite that word never appearing in the Gospels. Fr. Rutler’s extraordinary ministry as a simple parish priest has rather been of guidance and encouragement.
Through the beauty of the liturgy, including the glorious renovation of two churches in the heart of the city, the patronage of the arts for the glory of God and effective and orthodox preaching, he has nurtured the spiritual lives of countless people, especially the young. A Cardinal once described him to me as a “vocations factory”; happily the enforced relocation of the factory has not destroyed Fr. Rutler’s example and inspiration for young men and women considering their vocations in the Church.
Equally at home ministering both to the great and the good and the simple poor who inhabit the streets of New York City, Father Rutler embodies the quality of a pastor who has the “smell of the sheep” about him, to quote Pope Francis.
After fifty years of service, he has also brought with him all that was best in the Anglican tradition, both the love of language and tradition, and the essential gift of humor. Both a Bellocian and Chestertonian figure, he is, lastly, a priest for priests.
— Fr. Benedict Kiely
It is a tricky business to hail a great man on his anniversary. Most Crisis readers already know the man, and honor him, and perhaps love him. The essentials are already well known. What does that leave the little man who is trying to say “congratulations”? The inessentials?
I once introduced a British author by saying he was the first convicted criminal to whom my College had awarded a doctorate. That got everyone’s attention. A few years ago, Fr. Rutler came to my College for what was, no doubt, another of many honorary degrees. I was not sure what to say then, and I remain unsure. I will say this. We so esteemed Fr. Rutler that, in addition to recognizing him with an honorary doctorate, we bestowed a higher degree upon him: our undergraduate degree.
Everyone surely knows that Fr. George William Rutler is a prominent convert (if that is the right thing to say about an Anglican—I do not think it is). He is a dedicated diocesan priest, a heroic responder at the World Trade Center on September 11th. I have had the great pleasure of visiting him in his Rectory. I am sure he receives great people there regularly (I am not one). It is more impressive to sit for a few hours in a chair and watch how Fr. Rutler receives his flock: the random, the determined, the admiring, the wayward. I spent the better part of an afternoon reading in the Rectory while Father, with great love and evident joy, went about the ordinary duties of a parish priest. Bums, cleaning ladies, pests, well-wishers, violin teachers, stock-brokers, and little children paraded in and out of his office. He always remained Father Rutler—kind, erudite, and holy. I shall remember that afternoon more than any vignette or delightful passage in his books or essays—and this is no small thing, for the stories and bon motes are nothing but superlative and the stuff of legend.
I believe most who admire Father Rutler know that he is a pugilist at every level: a boxer from his youth, whose skills later allowed him to stop a thief in his own parish. Everyone surely knows that Fr. Rutler is the celebrated author of nearly two dozen books. For many years, we have been convinced of the truth that Father Rutler is the successor to Ronald Knox as a wry, literary homilist, and a very good man.
I cannot say enough about Fr. Rutler as a writer. He is delightful at length or in a short space—yet the short essay is the harder skill to master. I think he has learned much about elegance and discipline in tight and defined space by his dedication to squash (or squash racquets, to those who know). In fact, I am quite fond of Father Rutler’s book entitled Introducing Squash Racquets. I place it close by Hilaire Belloc’s “The Mowing of Field,” as a piece of beautiful expository writing. Listen to this little gem of a sentence from the section on “Demeanor”: “The tension of a contest in close quarters makes it necessary to keep reminding oneself of the standards of sportsmanship and the superiority of a game played well but lost to a game won but played cheaply.” I hope some readers will note and appreciate the soft chiasmic structure.
I am not jesting when I write that I find sentences like that beautiful. Few people can articulate their words expressively and enjoyably anymore; few have the patience to receive such words and ruminate. Good prose as a vessel for conveying principles of our civilization or for turning men and women toward virtue is rare. Yet the man who embodies the principles and demonstrates the virtues is rarer still and worth ten thousand essays. Salve et ad multos annos, Father Rutler!
— William Edmund Fahey
President, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
If there was any justice in this world, we’d be offering tributes to His Eminence George Cardinal Rutler. But never mind: he wouldn’t have liked the job. It would have required him to leave his beloved New York City, and his beloved New Yorkers.
Besides, the temptation to make him pope would have been well-nigh irresistible. When St. Martin was elected Bishop of Tours, he hid in a barn full of geese, but their squawking gave him away. One can imagine the Sacred College coming to Cardinal Rutler’s old rectory in Hell’s Kitchen and finding him hidden in plain sight among the busts of Newman and Dante. (A few of the men who found St. Martin, caked in mud and feathers, declared him too shabby to serve in the prelature—a charge that would never be leveled against Father.)
A whole generation of Catholic priests grew up wanting nothing more than to be the next George William Rutler. I’d wager that, save for the Sovereign Pontiff himself, no priest’s sermons are more widely heard than his. Father Rutler’s parish bulletin is one of the most widely read Catholic magazines in the country.
It’s fitting that the 50th anniversary of Father Rutler’s ordination to the Episcopal priesthood coincides with the 10th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. For four decades before the founding of the Personal Ordinariates, Father preserved the best of the Anglican patrimony within the Catholic Church. Thousands of Anglicans (myself included) entered into full communion with the Vicar of Christ heartened by his example. His very life and ministry assure us that English Christianity finds its fullness in the Church of Rome.
Father Rutler has been compared to Monsignor Knox, Cardinal Newman, and G.K. Chesterton. Most Catholic writers today would be pleased simply to be compared to Father Rutler.
— Michael Warren Davis
Editor, Crisis Magazine