By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published January 3, 2013
ATLANTA—Jesuit Father José E. Fetzer had a unique giggle that would erupt from his mouth whenever he goofed.
That trait attracted many Catholics to him during his 14 months at Ignatius Retreat Center, Atlanta, before he died on Dec. 22.
Father Fetzer was never full of himself and that was part of his charm.
“People were endeared to him because they found him to be very genuine and real,” said Maria Cressler, the executive director of the center.
A native of Peru, Father Fetzer was 52. He was a member of the Jesuit religious order for 17 years and a priest for four and a half years. He was one of three Jesuit priests leading retreats and serving people at the center.
Before joining the religious order, the priest worked at high-end Atlanta hotels as a waiter. That background made him very approachable.
“People could relate to him because he shared his own vulnerability, his own weaknesses,” Cressler said.
His life as a Jesuit was dedicated to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, a series of prayer and meditations. The retreat house changed his life. He made the decision to join the Jesuits while praying in the chapel at the center.
Here he was also helping to make inroads with the Hispanic community, drawing more people to the center for days of reflection. And he started recently to teach himself how to play the flute. He enjoyed going to dinner with friends.
“He very much liked the culinary world. He knew where to get a good meal,” said Cressler.
Father Fetzer was born on March 12, 1960 in Lima, Peru. His family background was German, so in addition to Spanish, Father Fetzer spoke German, English and a bit of French.
He studied at the University of Lima, DeKalb College and Georgia State University in Atlanta. He was a member of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, before religious life.
He entered the Jesuit novitiate on Aug. 14, 1995 at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau, La. Following his vows on Aug. 15, 1997, he entered Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and then went to St. Louis University, in St. Louis, Mo., where he earned a B.A. in Spanish. He attended Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a master of divinity.
His life as a Jesuit was dedicated to the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises. In 2006 he was assigned to be a retreat director at Montserrat Retreat House in Lake Dallas, Texas. He was ordained a priest on June 14, 2008 at Immaculate Conception Church in New Orleans. He worked at Montserrat until 2011, when he came to Ignatius Retreat House, Atlanta. He died there in his office, where it was his custom to pray in the early morning.
Father Fetzer was preceded in death by his father, Emilio. He is survived by his mother, Olga Balarin de Thorne, and by his sisters, Maria Alicia Robertson, Maria Olga, Maria Inez, Erika and Regina Fetzer. Letters of condolences may be sent to Ms. M. Alicia Fetzer Robertson, 6020 142nd Court, NE, Redmond, WA 98052.
A visitation was held on Thursday, Dec. 27, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Grand Coteau, followed by a funeral Mass. His body was buried in the Jesuit Cemetery at St. Charles College in Grand Coteau.
A memorial service is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 28, at the Cathedral of Christ the King at 7 p.m.