This popped up on Facebook Monday:
Father Marcin Zahuta, pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Columbia, passed away unexpectedly this morning at the age of 42 due to complications from a stroke. Please keep him, his loved ones and his parishioners in your prayers this week. May he rest in peace.
From a story about him two years ago:
Taking a step into St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel feels like taking a step into a home. This is not only because of its location in a restored Columbia house, but also because of the welcoming atmosphere.
The center serves as a place for University of South Carolina students who identify with Catholicism to practice their faith. Students are able to come for weekly masses and scheduled events as well as just to spend time with those who understand them.
“I had gone to mass at home with my parents from time to time, but everyone there was older and I did not feel completely in place there,” said Melissa Circelli. “When I started coming to St. Thomas More, I finally felt at home while at church.”
…As pastor to a primarily college community, [Father Marcin] Zahuta understands that his personality and his homilies should be in tune with his audience. He often walks through the house asking the students about school and their social lives. He does not spend time lecturing the students or admonishing them for activities they might take part in while in college. Instead, he tries to encourage them to learn how to interpret their own faith as young adults.
“Father Marcin understands that we are in college and we might find ourselves partying or drinking,” said Circelli. “We are all just trying to balance our social lives, our academic lives and our faith. His homilies relate to that.”
This is a sentiment that many students who frequent St. Thomas More agree with. The students find comfort in each other and encourage each other to keep up with their faith.
And there is this:
Zahuta used to be a professional soccer player in Poland who drove a Porsche and traveled the world. Then, he traded in his uniform for his priestly vestments, his wealth for a vow of poverty.
Now, [he] hangs out with students at the Catholic student center, plays intramural soccer and provides marriage counseling for young couples.
“Couples are surprised when I don’t start out my counseling sessions talking about Christ,” he says as he throws his hands in the air. “I start with finances, and we never even get to the Christ part!”
Zahuta entered the seminary when he was 20 after four years of professional soccer. He says he finally got tired of running away from God.
“That was a decision that kind of came to my mind right after my First Communion … that I want to stay around the altar,” he said. “It was kind of progressing, and I was pushing back, back, back, and I kind of got tired of running away from God and that type of life.”
He attended Cyril & Methodius Seminary in Detroit and had to take extra classes to learn English. He was ordained a priest in 2006 in the Diocese of Charleston and has been serving as campus minister at St. Thomas More since 2007.
Students say Zahuta has a way of relating to them as a peer and as a priest. People, who never went to church, say, because of him, St. Thomas More has become a home away from home.
“Everything is common sense with him,” Meghan Shingleton, president of the Newman Club, said. “He’s reliable, and has made my faith stronger.”
The local paper on Tuesday had this remembrance:
Steve Brown was the deacon at St. Thomas More throughout Zahuta’s time in Columbia, beginning with his first Mass on a Super Bowl Sunday.
“He had an infectious sense of humor,” Brown said. “He would be out on the street greeting people before a Mass, and if you got him laughing you could hear him through cinder-block walls. That’s what he’ll be remembered for most.”
As a teenager, Zahuta played professional soccer in his home country before he made a commitment to join the church, attending seminary in Detroit at the same time he was learning English. He told the Carolina Reporter he used his athletic background to combat the “stereotype that the priest’s got to be old and fat.”
Pam Scott called Zahuta “a man’s man who could stir up joy and laughter any time or place! Of course he was really just sharing God’s joy and love for us!”
What a loss for the students, and for the church.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…