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Saluting Our Veterans Whose War Experience Led to Religious Life

May 26, 2016
Fr. Eugene Lutz, CSV, and Br. Leo Ryan, CSV, shortly after entering the Viatorian Community

Fr. Eugene Lutz, CSV, and Br. Leo Ryan, CSV, shortly after entering the Viatorian Community

Fr. Eugene Lutz, CSV, and Br. Leo Ryan, CSV, entered the Viatorian Community within one year of each other — Fr. Lutz in 1949 and Br. Ryan in 1950 — and their ministries took very different paths. However, this much they shared: Their service in World War II helped them discern a call to religious life.

Fr. Lutz had enlisted in the Marines at the outbreak of the war in 1940, and when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, they also captured Wake Island. Although they fought valiantly, Pvt. Lutz was among the more than 1,600 Marines taken as prisoners of war.

Fr. Gene Lutz celebrates Mass on the grounds of Desiderata Villa

Fr. Gene Lutz celebrates Mass on the grounds of Desiderata Villa

He would spend the duration of the war as a POW and within three years of being released, he entered the Viatorian Community.

Br. Ryan also served in the Pacific. As an Army officer, he was chosen to be among the delegation to travel after the war, to the Central Pacific. Their post-war mission? To test the strength of the Atomic bomb, authorized by President Harry Truman.

Corp. Ryan in 1945

Corp. Ryan in 1945

As an administrative assistant to one of the top Army brass, Br. Ryan served on the Command Ship, the USS Mt. McKinley, and as a result had a front row sighting to both of the atomic tests.

“When watching so close to both atomic tests and experiencing the destructive power of these two explosions,” Br. Ryan said in a letter describing his military history, “I decided to make a serious effort to discern my vocation.”

Br. Leo Ryan receiving an honorary degree from DePaul in 2013

Br. Leo Ryan receiving an honorary degree from DePaul in 2013

At the time, his choice was between a business career and religious life. He chose the latter, but as the dean of the business colleges of Marquette, Notre Dame and DePaul University, he advanced the careers of thousands of business students, and still does.

Fr. Lutz began his career as a math and chemistry teacher at Cathedral Boys’ High School in Springfield, before ultimately spending more than 30 years as a beloved retreat master at Villa Desiderata in McHenry, IL.

Fr. Eugene Lutz

Fr. Eugene Lutz

One of his former students in Springfield still recalls the impact Fr. Lutz had on him and his classmates, as he wrote to the school in 2007.

“For those of us whose lives were touched by (Fr. Lutz) the learning was about so much more than (academics),” wrote Tom Higgins, class of 1963. “(He) taught us boys something of how men should handle responsibility, with justice, compassion and grace.”