Monsignor Joseph L. Luca, a priest for more than 50 years who had been the pastor of St. Louis Parish in Howard County, died of cancer Oct. 1 at St. Stephen’s Green in Timonium. He was 79.
He served at St. Louis in Clarksville from 1996 to 2021 and led the construction of its new church.
Archbishop William E. Lori described him as a “dedicated disciple and priest.”
“He gave of himself wholeheartedly to the people he served — even in his later years when he struggled with his own health challenges,” the archbishop said in a statement. “Monsignor Luca was a friend to all he met, a mentor to seminarians and priests, and a model of what it means to be a good shepherd. May he rest in peace.”
Born in Baltimore and raised on Bayonne Avenue, he was the son of Angelo N. Luca, a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad engineer, and Tommasina Maltese, a homemaker who was a native of Italy.
He attended St. Anthony’s School and was a 1961 graduate of Baltimore City College. He planned to become a dentist and studied at the University of Maryland.
During his second year of college, he decided to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood and began his studies at Resurrection College in Kitchener, Ontario, in 1966. He then earned a master’s degree at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg.
He was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.
“My brother was the kind of person who could speak to anyone at any level,” said a brother, Albert Luca. “He was always working.”
Monsignor Luca’s early assignments were as associate pastor of St. Francis of Assisi near Herring Run in Northeast Baltimore, St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale and at St. Joseph in Cockeysville.
Former Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed him as chair of the citizens advisory board for Montebello Hospital Center.
He was pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Fulton in Howard County before being pastor at St. Louis.
During his 25 years at that post, he led construction of a new 1,200-seat church, a structure designed to hold the stained glass windows removed during the refurbishment of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in downtown Baltimore.
“They’re exceptionally beautiful works of art,” Msgr. Luca said. “We had planned to have stained-glass windows for our church. ... It’s a wonderful fit.”
The windows, made in the 1940s by Conrad Schmitt Studios, portray Old and New Testament scenes, Maryland and Catholic history and numerous depictions of saints.
A 1996 Sun story said that when he came to the Clarksville parish, it was one of the fastest-growing in the Baltimore Archdiocese.
He was soon named a monsignor, an honor given by Pope John Paul II.
“I don’t take it very seriously,” he said in 2006. “A title’s a title. If some say ‘Father’ instead of ‘Monsignor,’ it’s not an issue. My work’s the same.”
The article noted how Msgr. Luca handled the fast-growing western Howard County parish, which extends from Cooksville to Highland.
At the time, he had 3,100 families worshipping at the church, which was designed for 750 people when it opened in 1980.
On an Easter Sunday, Msgr. Luca and his fellow priests shared the duties associated with saying eight Masses.
“We’re bursting at the seams. We had 200 people standing during the Masses last weekend,” he said in 1996. “Each weekend, if we don’t get five or six new families, it’s a surprise.”
As a growth sign, Msgr. Luca said there were five baptisms each week.
He also led the restoration of a historic Howard County early chapel associated with his parish in its earliest days.
He found the then-dilapidated chapel nearly a mile west of the present parish site, in Clarksville off Ten Oaks Road.
“A window had been knocked out of the wall facing the road, destroying the appearance of the quaint chapel,” said a Sun story. “The floor inside the chapel was a huge pit of dirt. The roof sagged and the walls were crumbling.”
“There are a number of people that go to Europe and `ooh’ and `aah’ over the magnificent churches there,” Msgr. Luca said. “In our country, we sometimes fail to realize that we have a responsibility to take care of our churches big or small, to preserve their history for succeeding generations.”
The Morning Sun
“It was in this little chapel, surrounded by the graves of loved ones, that St. Louis Parish, one of the largest in the state, developed its own identity,” Msgr. Luca said.
The parish members named the church after St. Louis — the French King Louis IX — in part because of the connection between France and the Catholics in the American colonies, he said.
His parish had a sister relationship with a poor congregation in Haiti and sent more than $50,000 to it as a gift intended for education.
Msgr. Luca was named best clergyperson in 2018 and received an honorable mention in 2020 for Howard Magazine’s Best of Howard County.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at St. Louis Church at 12500 Clarksville Pike in Clarksville.
Survivors include his two brothers, Angelo A. Luca and Albert C. Luca, both of the Nottingham section of Baltimore County.