Fr. Lutz has always had an interest in preserving Catholic Church history. Well before the museum opened, Fr. Lutz was storing religious articles in his home and at the homes of his mother and sister.
“I’ve always had in an interest in Church history. The physical art objects tell the story about our human history in a peaceful manner,” said Fr. Lutz. “Art, music, and literature take us beyond the wars.”
In 1998, Bishop Griffin proposed that each parish pastor prepare for the Jubilee year, 2000, in whatever way they choose, in honor of the Jubilee.
Fr. Lutz proposed showcasing some of the religious history of the Columbus Diocese with articles displayed in the classrooms upstairs at the Holy Family Soup Kitchen. Bishop Griffin approved of the idea.
The museum started with four classrooms and included some photos, vestments, tabernacles, stained glass from closed churches, and some large paintings from the St. Vincent Orphanage. People began giving Fr. Lutz religious articles to display at the museum.
“One of the first donations was from Msgr. Corcoran who gave a box and burse (stiff linen cloth) that held the chalice and veil that Bishop Hartley was buried in,” said Fr. Lutz who recently gave it to Hartley High School.
Another early donation was a First Edition Reims New Testament, dated 1582. “Seeing that people trusted the museum with their special items that had a lot of value brought in more donations,” said Fr. Lutz.
The museum received positive press from The Catholic Times and The Columbus Dispatch. Tours began. On the first day the museum opened, people showed up with religious articles they had been saving.
In a course of a week, Fr. Lutz said he still receives enough donations “to fill a station wagon.” The museum has gone from 4 rooms to 20 with two additional warehouses. He has 80 oil paintings and some are more than 400 years old. The museum has more than 100 pieces of stained glass. People also donate money so Fr. Lutz so he can purchase items. A Holy Family parishioner donated thousands for the purchase of a limited edition replica of a Guttenberg Bible for the museum.
According to the museum mission, it is to “preserve the Catholic Mind and Memory in art and culture.” It is one of the largest collections of Catholic art in the U.S. and it includes the life of Christ, Mary, the saints, and the history of the Catholic Church in and our diocese and beyond.
Fr. Lutz was the first American appointed as a consultant to the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural heritage of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II sent his Zuchetto as a sign of support of Fr. Lutz’s mission.
“One thing I am very pleased about is that we provide items for priests to use when they call us with a need in their parish,” said Fr. Lutz. “For example, we have 10 portable altars, many permanent altars, and school desks, in addition to many other items with practical use for parishes.”
St. Brigid of Kildare recently received three holy water fonts from the museum. A few years ago, they received a Monstrance from the museum. In return, parishes make a donation to the museum.
Museum items have been sent to help foreign missions in places such as Kazakhstan, Burma, and the Philippines. All Items are all logged and inventoried by curator Linda Hamilton. “We really like it when people send us a photo of the item in its new home,” said Fr. Lutz.
Fr. Lutz and the museum staff enjoy giving tours and telling the stories behind the religious items. “There are so many great stories and funny anecdotes about bishops, priests, sisters, and lay people in our diocese. The art helps tell the stories and it brings the people to life. In one room, you laugh at the story and in another room you cry.”
A lot of people who visit the museum attended one the now-closed Catholic schools, so the tour can be very emotional for them as they marvel at the items that were preserved. “People rescue religious items from garage sales and antique shops and they bring them to the museum,” said Fr. Lutz.
Fr. Lutz enjoys meeting the many individuals and groups that come to the museum, including Confirmation and RCIA classes, scouts, high school groups, and retirees.
“I say that upstairs we have the treasures of Christian art and downstairs we have the treasures of the Christian poor (soup kitchen and food pantry),” said Fr. Lutz.
Fr. Lutz enjoys reading and praying in the museum. “It is such a great place for meditation and to do some spiritual reading as we have thousands of books including many libraries from deceased bishops and priests, including Bishop Hartley and Auxiliary Bishop Hettinger.”
Bishop Hettinger was auxiliary bishop to Bishop Hartley from 1943-1978. He was the longest serving bishop in the U.S. with 55 years. He was an active priest for 67 years; he died in 1996.
“I like to pull a book from Bishop Hettinger’s library and sit for an hour to read and it is as good as making a hole in one for a golfer. It is wonderful recreational time for me,” said Fr. Lutz. “When I thumb through one of his spiritual books, I see his spirituality. It is like I am having a conversation with him again.”
He also enjoys reading history and religious books that are “timeless and ageless. The past is where we came from and it guides us to where we are going.”
There are several different rooms named after the items contained in the room, such as The Relic Room and the Popes and Bishops Room, where Fr. Lutz often chooses to relax and read.
“The different rooms have different personalities. One of my favorites is the St. Peter Room. I was the last organist at that Church before it was closed.”
Fr. Lutz believes that the museum will continue to grow and be of service to the diocese and beyond. “The future of the museum is very bright. There are many younger priests who have an interest in taking over whenever it is time for me to retire,” said Fr. Lutz.