Father Ron Hutchinson – Basilica of Saint Adalbert
As I walked past the glintering glass-studded towers of the Basilica of Saint Adalbert, I felt my soul bow in respect to the ancient tradition which radiated from the complex puzzle of glass and stone. I ascended the archaic, worn stairs to the imposing yet inviting ornate wooden door; it was locked.
I looked back and forth down the street not quite sure what to do next. To the left of the Basilica sat a beautiful home. I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to go in there. The building to the left of the house-like building was a business building. I ended up going in the business-looking building.
Father Ron Hutchinson led me through the warm, if not far more simplistic than I expected, hallway and into his office. His office, at least, was far more like what I was expecting: catholic.
Q – Please give me a brief description of what you believe and what you do.
A – “First off, my name is Father Ron Hutchinson and I’m the Pastor here at the Basilica of St. Adalbert. But, I’m also the pastor of St. Mary’s church here in town. I have three worship sites that I take care of because I also take care of St. James.
What we believe, I mean, that’s always a loaded question in some respects. It would take a lot to explain 2000 years of what we believe, but it can be summed up in the Nicene Creed. Now, that’s a very formal definition of what we believe. I mean, there’s no doubt that we as a Catholic Church believe that we’re comprised not only of what has been handed down in tradition, and when I say tradition, I mean oral tradition and written tradition. Much of the oral tradition became written tradition called scripture. But, it’s also what has been handed down through 2000 years of continual worship and the way that we worship. So, we have a Sacrament system in the Catholic Church; we believe in Seven Sacraments. They start at baptism and it doesn’t really end in death. It ends with the, well, I guess you could say, it doesn’t really end.”
Q – What drew you to being a religious leader?
A – “Well, interestingly enough, it wasn’t the first plan I had in life. Actually, I wanted to be a dentist, orthodontist to be very specific. But, after some time in college, I realized that that wasn’t what I was feeling like I was drawn to. And then I went on to get a degree in counseling; I have a Masters in Counseling. I have a Master’s in College Administration and did that for a little while and said, ‘this still isn’t what I think I’m called to.’ And so I went onto the seminary, not really sure that that’s what I was really called to. But, after about a year, realized that I was where I needed to be. This year, I’m celebrating my 25th anniversary of ordination on the 24th of September. So, I guess at this point I think I’m pretty committed what I’m doing.
For me, it’s the combination of the counseling aspect of things that I really enjoyed like aiding people to work through life’s situations. And not all of them are awful. Some of them can be good, but we just don’t know how to navigate our way through them. And then also the faith side.
It’s very interesting. Despite the fact that I was a typical college student, I had a typical life at college, some of it which I’m not proud of necessarily, but it’s all part of my growing up. I went to church every single Sunday that I was in college and never missed going to mass. I might not have gone late in the evening, but I always went to mass. And so, for me, it was finding a way to put all [those] things together. And I don’t have any doubt that this is what God is calling me to. It’s been confirmed year after year after year of my life thus far.”
Q – Were you raised in a religious household?
A – “I think there’s always the assumption that guys who become priests are all raised in these super ultra-Catholic families and my family was a pretty typical family. We went to church every Sunday, but we were certainly not the very overly involved family that everything revolved around church. But, I was an altar server and did various ministries when I was a teenager. I mean, [Catholicism] didn’t define all of our lives and yet, it was a defining part of who we were at the same time.”
Q – How would you say that your childhood affected?
A – “I think because I grew up in a family that was religious, meaning my grandparents on my mom’s side were Catholic [and] my grandparents on my father’s side were Lutheran. [We] all attended church very regularly with my grandmother on my mom’s side. My mom’s mom was the organist at a church. So, it was a part of our lives. There was no doubt about it. It wasn’t just a holiday thing. It was every Sunday and it did connect during the week.
But, I grew up in a very small town, so religion at that time was much more common. It was also much more common that everybody went to church. Whether you were Lutheran or Baptist or Catholic or Methodist, everybody went to church. That isn’t the case today. So, you had kind of that moral foundation all throughout your life that was just part of who you were. Although having grown up in a small town [where there] was a lot of religions, I didn’t notice the divide amongst us. We all went to school together throughout the week and it just was the way it was.
It’s just very different today; when I look at young people today, it seems like it’s a very fast-paced world. There are just so many things pulling and tugging at you all the time. And time is being given to all sorts of things that supposedly are so important. Yet, none of them will really guide [you] through every day [life]. So that’s what for me religion was and still is; it helps me steer through life. I don’t have to figure it all out on my own. Some of it is already there for me just to tap into, you know, and then as I tap into it, I can deal with the good and the bad and the ugly and the happy of life. But, it gives me a very solid grounding of who I am in the midst of it.”
Q – What are your favorite and least favorite parts of being a leader of your church?
A – “I think, probably all pastors would, in any denomination, agree with me on this. As the shepherd of this community, I’m in charge of not only the spiritual but the temporal affairs of this community. And I would say to you, if there’s anything that I just would love to not deal with some days, it’s the temporal affairs. It’s the buildings— it’s the figuring out if we are going to have enough money to do this, that, or other things. And when I say temporal affairs, it also means managing staff and all those kinds of things, which take up a lot of energy.
My favorite thing is just being able to be there for people when they need spiritual guidance and that doesn’t always mean death. It can sometimes just mean like people are going through some really rough times emotionally or physically. It was really kind of cool, a couple of weeks ago, a woman who works over here for Spectrum Health, she’s a PA psychiatrist, and one of her patients committed suicide. And so she came over here, not because I’m her pastor, but she needed to talk to a priest[to] just help guide her through that. This is why I do this.
Q – How do you believe that your faith affects the community in which you live?
A – “I would hope that it affects the community in which I live by being a light in the midst of darkness. I’m not saying that everything out there is like pitch black. But at times, I feel like the darkness is kind of moving in. And I firmly believe that we, as a faith community, are meant to be a light in the midst of that. So, people can say ‘that’s where I can go because I need help. I see that light.’ That would be what I think is our role and responsibility. As a light, it means it has to split. The dark means we have to speak out sometimes about things that we think are very wrong and that doesn’t mean that we’re all perfect. The church has its own issues, don’t get me wrong. But, we have to speak out against moral evils that are wrong in our opinion and call people to something better than what they would normally do given their own devices.”
Q – What is the biggest stereotype you face as a priest?
A – Oh, I would think it’s probably centered around celibacy. The fact that we don’t get married [and] live a life devoted to our ministry is seen as such a weird thing in today’s culture because we live in a highly sexualized culture where sex is everything, which I find fascinating because that’s the biggest cause of most problems for people. We have a hard time imagining that we’re giving up something, sacrificing something for a greater good, sacrificing that side of life for the sake of the kingdom which is funny because it’s part of every single religion in history. It’s about sacrifice, and I think that’s the issue when it really comes down to [it]. In our culture, we don’t believe in sacrifice anymore.
Even talking about it in the context of marriage, I think most people, if you think about how people talk about ending a marriage, it’s because [they] ‘fell out of love.’ Well, how do you fall out of something that you’ve sacrificed for? It isn’t something you fall in and out of— love is bigger than a feeling. It’s about who you become, who you’re becoming. And that takes a lifetime. So, that’s what I think is the biggest kind of strange oddity we are to the culture and [that’s why] people are constantly saying that’s the problem. And yet, actually, it may not be a problem at all. It may be something we all need to tap into a little bit more.”
Q – What is the biggest stereotype your faith faces as a larger community?
A – The one thing I often hear from people is that Catholicism has so many rules. It’s funny because when I listen to other religions, I think they have way more than we do. So, it’s just interesting how it’s viewed by people. I think that we have a lot of tradition and some of that gets equated to people as rules, but it really is just meant to be a whole system of guiding people throughout their lives.”
Q – How has your faith changed you?
A – “I think that has made me a better person because I’m constantly being challenged to soar like an eagle as opposed to having the heart of the chicken, which most of us have. We tend to be chickens at heart and afraid. So, I think that my religion is always challenging me to be better than I think I can be. I also think that, in essence, I would not be the person I am today if I had it not been for religion. That doesn’t mean that I’m good at it every day, but if I were looking at my life, I think I turned out better than I would’ve if I hadn’t had my religion.”
Q – As a leader, do you feel the need to be perfect?
A – “I think we all feel the pressure to be perfect; but, I’m realistic enough to know that I’m not perfect. I think that’s the hardest thing for other people. It’s not hard for me because I know that I’m not perfect. I think other people have the expectation that [priests are] always supposed to do the right thing, say the right thing, be the perfect image of the church, so to speak. And that would be impossible for anybody, even the saints. Even though we’ve declared them saints, [they] were not perfect people. They were human beings, you know, and they made mistakes too. People put priests on pedestals; we don’t put ourselves there. Then when we get knocked off, people are like ‘you put yourself there.’ And it’s like ‘wait, I didn’t put myself there. I never desired to be there. You put me there.’ And this is what we do to a lot of people— athletes, [and celebrities —we] spend our time trying to knock them off. I don’t want to be there either, just let me be on the ground.”
Q – Have you ever wanted to quit being a religious leader?
A – “There have been times when I seriously thought it would be easier not to be. I mean, I think that there probably are parents who feel that way. Some days, there are definitely married couples who feel that way. I [think we] always think that it would be easier not to have the life we have, but,I will never say that I’ve given it any serious thought.”
Q – What is the biggest issue your religion faces in this day?
A – “I think it will be helping the younger generations and not just the younger generations, but everyone to see faith as something relevant in today’s world. I think there’s a tendency to see everything that has existed for a long time as irrelevant in modern society. Because faith is something that can’t be necessarily proven like empirically, therefore, it has no value. That’s always funny to me because even hospitals recognize that faith is an important component of healing which is why they have chaplain services. Even if it isn’t denomination based, they still believe that helping people find something bigger than themselves to tap into is terribly important. So, I think that that’ll be the major issue today for not just us, for every single religion right now is relevancy in the midst of all that’s going on.
And because things are changing so rapidly, it’s even harder because there’s this mindset that we have to constantly remake things in order to make them relevant. Instead of saying we don’t need to be remade, you just need to figure out how this is still relevant in the midst of all this. It’s a constant challenge. I get tired of feeling like we have to, how to figure out a new way to say it when it really is there’s nothing new to say. It’s the same message, but we have to figure out how to say it in a way that people will hear it.”
Q – What would you say is the most important part of your job?
A – “I would say that the most important part of my job is being a rock in the midst of the ocean of the world. I think it is my responsibility to be, in a sense, very firmly tethered to the Rock Jesus Christ. Because I think the one thing I do feel the pressure of today is that I have to be so firmly attached via prayer that I’m not floating around like a bobber or a buoy, that I’m solidly attached, more like a lighthouse on the rock. I would say that’s the big issue that I feel very strongly right now— that it’s important for me to have a very strong prayer life. It’s important for me to be firmly connected by having a good spiritual director and all the things that help keep my faith firmly established.”
Q – Is there anything else you would like to add?
A – “I’m very grateful that you guys started doing this Q and A with spiritual leaders because it says to me that there are young people for whom faith is very important. At the same time, I think that it gives us the vehicle to get out to other young people, to [help them] realize that like maybe he [is] sort of saying something I can connect with. And I think that’s the other thing that I, at least I tried to do, is I try to make the way I preach something that every age level can get something right.
It’s not just like you come here and are like ‘he’s talking to somebody other than me.’ I’d rather everybody comes up and say ‘I felt like you were talking to me.’ I had the woman say this weekend ‘I swear you have a camera in my kitchen and you’re listening to all the things that go on in my family.’ And that’s how you come up with your sermon because that’s the way it feels. I would say that that to me is the greatest compliment, but it also makes me realize that all of us are going to the same stuff.”