By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 25, 2007
At 61, most people Fred Sahuc’s age think about slowing down.
The former advertising executive had earned the accolades and awards that come with a successful career and said he looked forward to leading “a life of leisure, but God had other plans.”
Those plans came to a climax Wednesday, Oct. 17, when the Claretian deacon was ordained to the priesthood. Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory presided at the ordination Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain.
“This afternoon the church receives a brand new priest—not necessarily a young priest,” said Archbishop Gregory as worshippers chuckled, “but a new one who has come to the priesthood of Jesus Christ by a long and curious journey of faith.”
Father Sahuc, a burly man with closely cropped hair and aging knees, who is comfortable being called Fred, is much older than most newly ordained priests. The average age for priests ordained this year is 35, according to the study done by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. In American seminaries, second-career priests are not unusual; one in five men studying to be priests is older than 40.
Corpus Christi parishioners believe Father Fred’s age and experience make his words more insightful then a priest just starting his life.
“His age brings something special to the Catholic Church,” said Jim Rosentreter, who with his wife, Peggy, received a first blessing from the priest.
The new priest doesn’t put on airs and welcomes people to call him by his first name, said the couple.
His life experiences give him credibility when counseling others, Mrs. Rosentreter said. “Fred has been out there living, earning a living, meeting all sorts of people.”
Father Fred grew up in New Orleans in the Lakeview neighborhood, the younger of two boys. His father managed a molasses plant and his mother worked in a dress shop. Both parents are deceased.
As a 9-year-old, he raised his hand at a parochial school event when asked who wanted to be a priest. Indeed, the ordination program cover showed a crayon drawing of a priest’s hands during the consecration of holy Communion. He colored it in 1954. During the 1970s, Sahuc tried out religious life, but he wasn’t ready.
Meanwhile, he earned academic degrees, including a master of fine arts from the University of New Orleans. He made a career in advertising in the Crescent City. His big name clients included the makers of Tabasco sauce.
“I always carry a vial of Tabasco with me,” he joked.
And through the years, careers and romantic relationships unfolded for him.
“Everybody knew but me,” he said. “I finally got here.”
The idea of religious life returned 20 years later. In part, he was moved by the “heroic faith” of caregivers he witnessed while directing a food bank for people with HIV/AIDS and as a hospice worker. His effort was recognized by the NO/AIDS Task Force with its highest honor, the Crystal Star.
Father Fred said he is at ease caring for people dying and visiting people who are ill. He said he relishes walking into a hospital room knowing nobody and leaving as friends.
His brother Louis said that the strength of his brother was clear when their parents got sick and he cared for them.
“He really works with people, particularly well with people who are ill. He’s got a special gift with that,” he said.
Undeterred by vocation directors who turned him away because he was older than the age limit of 45, Father Fred found the Claretians at the suggestion of a priest and immediately fell in love with the religious order’s mission.
“I was welcomed as one of them, family almost,” he said.
The Claretians, formally known as the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, are a Catholic religious community of priests and brothers working in more than 60 countries on five continents. They number some 3,000. The community was founded in 1849 by St. Anthony Claret in Spain. The order is most known for working on issues of justice and peace, with care for recent immigrants and spiritual renewal. The order also runs a publishing house, printing U.S. Catholic and At Home With Our Faith, among other magazines.
Father Fred joined the order in 2000. Since then he has worked with working-class people in Chicago at the Villa Guadalupe and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, the order’s mother church, spent time in Jamaica and preached at Claretian missions. At the same time, he earned his master of divinity degree from Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union.
Claretian Father Ray O’Conner, the director of the National Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago, said he admired his friend’s drive, completing his graduate work in his 50s. He recalled how as he would baptize youngsters, it would be Father Fred, then only a seminary student, who would get everything in order, including singing impromptu songs to add to the ceremony.
“His desire to serve is humongous,” he said.
In August 2006, he started his pastoral work in Stone Mountain. Claretian Father Gregory Kenny said the then Deacon Fred quickly became part of the parish. During his yearlong diaconate, he made the sick calls, worked with the poor in the community and preached at Masses.
“He’s certainly an extrovert. He’s made a lot of friends here,” said Father Kenny, pastor of the parish, where the new priest is currently assigned.
Father Fred said he aims to preach about God’s joy for people.
“God’s plan is our happiness, not to be trouble in our lives. The cross is absolutely an important aspect. … The point is the glory, not the cross,” he said.