It is a great sorrow for me—and for so many others who knew and loved him—to lose, or better said, to commend to Our Lord Jesus Christ, the true and faithful servant of God Joseph Koterski, SJ., who died of a heart attack on August 9 while preaching a retreat. He was 67 years old. God in his providence accomplishes his purposes in mysterious ways. Fr. Koterski’s death follows upon the equally sudden death last September of Fr. Paul Mankowski, SJ., after suffering an aneurism at the age of 66. Both priests were brilliant defenders of the Faith and humble servants in the Lord’s vineyard. They were doing the Lord’s work in outstanding ways, with many of us looking to them for guidance and inspiration. Yet the Lord called them to himself even as we anticipated many more fruitful years of their presence among us.
The temptation is to ask the insane question: “Does God know what he is doing?” Of course, he does! But God’s ways are not man’s ways. The work of the Lord is carried out by the Church, and each member does that work as God permits—and only for as long as God permits. God gives us certain talents, and it is up to us to develop and use them to promote the good things we are sent into the world to accomplish. When our time for such work has ended, we await with faith and hope the reward Our Lord promised the good and faithful servants who toiled in the vineyard for as long as the Master determined.
Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote a moving tribute (Remembering Father Joseph Koterski: Jesuit, pro-life advocate and humble genius | America Magazine) to Fr. Koterski in America magazine in which she captured the many admirable aspects of his priestly life. He was a Jesuit of the old school who combined academic excellence with a priestly dedication to the Lord’s flock. His ability to explain philosophical concepts in an understandable wayabout:blan opened the realm of metaphysical realism to countless students at Fordham University, where, since 1992, he had taught philosophy and for the last two decades been Master of Queens Court Residential College for Freshman. He was the embodiment of the saying, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.” His retreat and spiritual direction work were of great benefit to many, especially the Sisters of Life. He also organized and personally gave various lecture series for the Wethersfield Institute here in New York, which my parents and their friends regularly attended.
Fr. Koterski understood that our country and our Church today stand in great need of God’s truth and justice. We live in an age of reckless immorality and stunning intellectual fraud, besieged by grievance mongers seeking to cower us into silence about eternal truths and the real purpose for our being on earth. The light of reason—guided by God’s revelation—is the foundation of a genuinely just society. This is why Fr. Koterski was tireless in explaining how we come to know that which is, and how this knowledge enables us consciously to direct our will toward living in the real world—not one we fashion to our own liking—at peace with God and our fellow man.
It was my privilege to count Fr. Koterski as my friend and colleague. He would deny it, but he was a model of priestly holiness. His charity in dealing with people was well exemplified by something Kathryn Jean Lopez pointed out: He was never in a rush when speaking with you. He took the time to listen and to react thoughtfully. He showed God’s love simply by letting people share their thoughts, troubles, and hopes with a priest everyone immediately recognized to be a truly sympathetic man of God.
In this world, encouragement can be in short supply. Meeting a priest like Fr. Koterski was like getting a living instagram message from heaven: Amidst the difficulties, the sadnesses, and the all too present and horrific injustices of our current societal reality, God is still very much with us, his grace so plainly displayed by good and faithful servants like Joseph Koterski, who work tirelessly in the vineyard of the Lord until the sun goes down. Rest in peace, Father. The harvest will be great in eternity.