OUR FOUNDING FATHER
Father Louis J. Putz, C.S.C. (June 1, 1909 – June 24, 1998)
Immigrant / Priest / Teacher / Visionary
1909: Born in Simbach, Germany
1923: Arrived at Ellis Island, unable to speak English and with a sign around his neck that said “Deliver to Notre Dame, Indiana”
1923: Entered Holy Cross minor seminary at Notre Dame and, thus, began an association with the University which lasted 75 years
1930s: Became an advocate of liturgical renewal and lay activism
1932: Graduated from Notre Dame and went to France to study theology
1936: Ordained a Holy Cross Priest in Paris and began working in the poor neighborhoods there
1939: Returned to U.S. following the outbreak of WWII
1939-1966: Taught theology at the University of Notre Dame
1966-1972: Served as Rector of Moreau Seminary
1972-1979: Served as Director of Family Life Services (Ft. Wayne, IN), Harvest House (South Bend, IN), and Senior Living Program (Phoenix, AZ) enriching the lives of seniors
1974: Established Forever Learning Institute
1998: Passing of Fr. Putz
FOREVER LEARNING INSTITUTE and Father PUTZ
In the early 1970’s as Fr. Putz approached his retirement years, he became very interested in older adults. He saw life as a chain with three links: the age of learning, the age of earning, and the age of returning. He chose to focus on the third age because it is that time in life when there is the opportunity to give back one’s knowledge, talent, and experience in service to others. Likewise, he believed that “service adds years to your life and life to your years” and that “isolation is the greatest malady of older adults.” Fr. Putz’s beliefs sowed the seeds then for his vision of a school for seniors where students could come together for the pure joy of learning, for interaction with each other, and for their own ongoing personal and spiritual development. Additionally, this school would have well qualified teachers who would serve without pay. Thus, on May 24, 1974, he assembled his first advisory group to flesh out the mission, goals, and structure of the school.
Subsequently, Sr. Madeleine Adamczak, S.S.J., was selected as the school’s first administrator; a call went out for teachers; the first floor of the former novitiate (now Trinity School) for the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Third Order of St. Francis, became the site for the school; and Fr. Putz ably secured funding from various religious and lay organizations and persons. On September 24, 1974, volunteers began to register students for classes which began October 1st. Fr. Putz had anticipated 40 students for this first semester, but 115 students enrolled in 22 classes. Since that date, Forever Learning has grown and flourished and has always remained true to Fr. Putz’s vision and beliefs.
In 1995 Fr. Putz retired to Corby Hall at Notre Dame. He passed away on June 24, 1998 at the age of 89.
SOUTH BEND SITE LOCATIONS
1974: FLI opened its doors at the novitiate for the Sisters of St. Joseph, 107 South Greenlawn Avenue
1979: FLI moved to the vacant St. Patrick’s Grade School, 308 S. Scott Street
2006: FLI moved to Little Flower Parish Center, 54191 Ironwood Road (current location)
Here is how his friend, colleague, and brother, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., emeritus president of the University of Notre Dame, summarized Louie’s curriculum vitae in a foreword to a biography entitled, “You Are Church! The Life and Times of Louis J. Putz, C.S.C., Prophet, Servant and Visionary”, by Bob Ghelardi:
He lived a life filled with fresh initiatives, starting with creative work with students of Notre Dame and across North America, later with publishing ventures which announced (largely through translations) the transformations of the Second Vatican Council for an American public, then responding to the call of his Congregation of Holy Cross to implement the council as rector of Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame, after which he brought the message of lay involvement in the Kingdom of God to retired folks.
Permitted by well-meaning but feckless relatives to leave Germany for America to enroll in the seminary at far-off Notre Dame, he collapsed into bed in Walsh Hall on Aug. 25, 1923, at 4 a.m., fresh off the Grand Trunk railroad from Ellis Island, a starving and bewildered 14-year old with no English and a note reading “Deliver me to South Bend, Indiana”, pinned to his lapel. After a few hours of sleep, he went to Mass in the Crypt chapel beneath the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and began a career that profoundly enriched the University, the Congregation of Holy Cross, and a generation of American Catholics.
Ghelardi’s biography of Putz details a life and career deeply entangled in the dramas of the last century: A rustic childhood in a defeated Germany, a precarious emigration to New York and the New World, trans-Atlantic seminary studies perilously interrupted by World War II, a ministry in Notre Dame’s seminary and campus residence halls which anticipated the Second Vatican Council, and a retirement in which Putz became the chaplain for a nationwide community of fellow senior citizens, or Third Agers, as he preferred to call them.
In his most active years at Notre Dame, he launched an occasionally controversial Young Christian Students group, modeled on more radical initiatives of European Catholic labor organizations. He also served as rector of Cavanaugh Hall and later of what is now Moreau Seminary. In his spare time, he also founded Fides Publishers, a company which made previously untranslated works of European theologians available to literate Catholic lay people.
Long after reaching the age when many of his brother priests were dozing on the Corby Hall porch, Father Louie established South Bend’s Harvest House, a center devoted to the physical, spiritual, and cultural needs of Third Agers, and the Forever Learning Institute, an inexpensive continuing-education program in which he remained active until days before his death. Both projects became models for similar initiatives in Phoenix; Houston; Galveston,Texas; Wichita, Kan.; and California’s Coachella Valley.
To be an apostle, he once said in a homily for Pentecost Sunday, you need not necessarily become a social worker, or a foreign missionary; you need not be a dynamic orator. You need merely to be keenly alive to the needs of your neighbor, the neighbor of your immediate environment. Proximus, the Latin word for neighbor, is the one next to you, the one who is frequently overlooked in our ministrations of charity . Timely reminders, kind advice, a kind word, or sympathetic concern might save a broken spirit or otherwise lost soul. Real, effective, personal charity makes us good and patient, not arrogant, nor repulsive. It is the master key that will open every heart, acquired by a constant doing of little acts and services, a readiness to serve others and sacrifice oneself.
Louie Putz practiced what he preached.
In his later years, Father Putz turned his attention to what he called “Ministries of Third Agers.” He saw life as a chain with three links: the age of learning, the age of earning, and the age of returning. This third age is the point in life when there is time to give back one’s knowledge, talents, and experience to be of service to others. The Forever Learning Institute is just one result of Father Louie Putz’s dedication and vision.