Father Louis Putz, C.S.C. (1909-1998)
The Proponent of the New Theology
Louis Putz was born in Simbach, Bavaria and at the age of nine, he decided to become a priest. His aunt, a Holy Cross sister stationed in America, arranged for him to enter the Holy Cross minor seminary at Notre Dame. He was 14 and spoke only German and French when he arrived at Ellis Island displaying a clothing tag which read “Deliver me to South Bend, Indiana.” He entered the novitiate in 1927 and after graduating from Notre Dame in 1932 was sent to study theology in Paris where he was ordained in 1936. He remained teaching in France until the outbreak of World War II when he returned to Notre Dame. From 1940-1961 he was a teacher, a prefect, the director of Catholic Action and the president of Fides Press. Over the remainder of his life he was Superior of Moreau Seminary, Diocesan Director of Family Life Service and Director of Harvest House. For a while he worked with senior citizens at Casa Santa Cruz in Phoenix. Father Louis retired in 1995 moving to Holy Cross House in 1997. His list of assignments is typical of a Holy Cross priest, yet Father Putz profoundly influenced American Catholics of his generation.
Father Putz’s years spent in France were “crucially” formative for him. It was there that “…he was trained in the theology called ‘new’ yet which was thoroughly patristic in character—a theology which would be promulgated to the entire church thirty years later in Vatican II, along with the corresponding practice which emphasized the priesthood of all the faithful.” His work with Young Christian Students prodded Notre Dame to admit people of color, re-cycle books for student use, open avenues of communication and publicity, and revise the residence hall system—all with the over-riding purpose of forming young men and women as lay apostles, that is, people whose lives radiated the gospel.
In the sixties this work blossomed into a translation project designed to bring the “new theology” then animating Vatican II into the English-speaking world: Fides Publishers. Provincial Father Howard Kenna asked Father Putz to guide Moreau Seminary into the church which Vatican II envisaged. While doing this, he published the ground-breaking Seminary Education in a Time of Change, which proved to be a beacon for many religious congregations and dioceses.
Father Louis’s life “…was a vision of faith opened up in his family, articulated in the ‘new theology’ he so vividly absorbed, the church: male and female, lay and clerical.” He envisioned a church in which lay women and lay men—of all ages and with many different gifts and abilities—pool their talents as they work for the coming of God’s kingdom.” He brought this ecclesiology to all of his many initiatives for over sixty years. (Adapted from his community obituary 1998)