Died 20 December 2019
Jesuit Father Daniel J. Lusch died on Dec. 20, 2019, at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, in Burlington, Massachusetts. He was 86 years old.
Fr. Lusch was born on Dec. 16, 1933, in Stamford, Connecticut. He and his sister Barbara were the two children of Harry and Helen (Easter) Lusch. His father’s family was Ukrainian, his mother’s Hungarian. His father supervised the book bindery for a New York publisher; his mother managed the family home and did all the worrying, Fr. Lusch said.
The friendly priests in his Stamford parish gave Fr. Lusch the first thoughts of becoming a priest, a future that was reinforced by the Jesuits he encountered at Fairfield Prep. He entered Prep in his sophomore year and his intellectual ability was evident. He and three other students were given the unusual distinction of preparing what Jesuits call an actus, a public demonstration of academic achievement, in this case on the Greek text of Homer’s Odyssey. Professors from Yale and Columbia were invited to examine the students.
When Fr. Lusch graduated, in 1951, he entered the novitiate at Shadowbrook. He was there for the usual four years of novitiate and juniorate. In the juniorate, he again distinguished himself academically, though Fr. Lusch thought his teachers did less to stretch his ability than his teachers at Fairfield had. At Shadowbrook a side of his character emerged that few would recognize who knew only the adult Fr. Lusch, his prowess on the basketball court, where his strong, sinewy body and quick reflexes made him a natural.
For philosophy studies Fr. Lusch would normally have proceeded to Weston College, but at that time the province was sending some of its promising scholastics to Europe for this part of their formation. Fr. Lusch was asked to go to Vals, in central France. He arrived there in 1955, knowing little French but eager to immerse himself in his studies and a new culture. Life in the Vals Jesuit community, only ten years after the end of World War II, was austere (the per diem charge was less than $2.00). On the other hand, because many of the French scholastics had done compulsory military service, most in Algiers, and were older, superiors allowed them considerable freedom compared to their counterparts back in the States. Moreover, the New England provincial had told Fr. Lusch and the others going abroad that he wanted them to travel and learn about the history and cultures of Christian Europe, so during vacations Fr. Lusch was able to see something of the world beyond Vals.
There was a darker side of the three years Fr. Lusch spent in Vals. The health problems began to surface there that would later have a profound effect on his life. When he returned to the States in 1958 and was assigned to teach French at Boston College High School, he was constantly weak and tired. Superiors decided that he should return early to Weston for theology studies. From 1959 on, health issues would be a constant in Fr. Lusch’s life.
During his four years of theology Fr. Lusch’s fragile health led to his being placed in the “short course,” a less demanding set of academic requirements. He was told to take it easy, took up painting, learned to play the guitar, and immersed himself in the folk music that shaped so much of the Sixties, especially on the Boston scene. He was a big admirer of Joan Baez.
Fr. Lusch was ordained in 1962. A year later he went to Pomfret, Connecticut, for tertianship. In 1964, he returned to B.C. High, this time teaching religion. The next four years were a difficult but significant time for him. He grew unhappy with the academic approach of the religion program, which he felt should give more attention to cultivating students’ faith lives. He switched from teaching to developing a retreat program for students.
In 1970, Fr. Lusch joined a conversation that a small group of Boston-area Jesuits was having about the Spiritual Exercises and spiritual direction. In the following year he became one of the founders of the Center for Religious Development, in Cambridge, one of the first programs that trained religious, clergy, and laity in the practice of spiritual direction. After two years at CRD he worked for a year at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston, supervising chaplains, and teaching in a human development program at the Texas Medical Center. Fr. Lusch became acquainted with the work of psychotherapist Ira Progoff and his method of “intensive journaling” as a way of gaining insight into one’s inner life, a method he adapted to his retreat work and spiritual direction.
In 1974, Fr. Lusch received a D.Min. degree from Andover-Newton Theological School and returned to CRD for a year. Then he joined the campus ministry program at Boston College where his work mainly focused on retreats (1975-1983) and teaching in B.C.’s Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (1983-1988). His health problems continued to sap his energy. Conventional medicine had limited effect and Fr. Lusch increasingly explored alternative treatments. His Jesuit friends in the small community where he lived marveled at the complicated dietary requirements of these programs and the time and energy Fr. Lusch devoted to preparing and cooking his food, but Fr. Lusch was convinced that his diet was keeping him alive. He spent a sabbatical year (1988-1989) exploring alternative medicine at a holistic health center in upstate New York. Fr. Lusch gradually moved away from the whole field of alternative health care to devote his energy to retreats, spiritual direction, and pastoral counseling.
In 2015, Fr. Lusch moved into the Canisius Jesuit Community in Buffalo, where he continued his work of spiritual direction and pastoral counseling. In 2016 he moved to Campion Center in Weston, Massachusetts.
At Campion Fr. Lusch was a gentle presence with an understated sense of humor, though his weak voice sometimes made communication a chore and flagging energy kept him to his room much of the time. Still he was almost always in his favorite spot in the chapel for the daily 10:00 a.m. Mass. He was hospitalized in mid-December for tests and died on Dec. 23, 2019.