Editor’s note: This week, Rhode Island Catholic begins a series of profiles of recently retired priests who have ministered in the diocese in parishes and hospital chaplaincy. This year, Fathers Joseph Creedon, Charles Downing, Raymond Luft, Thomas O’Neill and Msgr. Victor Vieira were named pastors emeriti; while Fathers Domingos M. Da Cunha and John J. Rainone achieved senior priest status.
PROVIDENCE – As Father Raymond Luft reflects on his long and active ministry in the Diocese of Providence, he is grateful for the many friendships he has cultivated and blessings that God has bestowed upon him during more than four decades of service as a parish priest and busy fire and police department chaplain.
Father Luft emphasizes that the highlights of his long ministry have always been offering the sacraments and “being with people at important times of their lives such as the birth of a child or helping people prepare to meet the Lord.”
“The day to day activities of a priest are the highlights of the life of a priest,” he said, noting during a recent retirement party, many people thanked him for being present to their family during times when the comforting presence of a priest was most needed.
As a police department chaplain, Father Luft has counseled many families of victims of urban violence, as well as patrolmen who constantly face difficult situations.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of young people are involved in serious crimes,” he observed, adding that he has administered the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to officers who were shot or injured, and celebrated many funerals for officers killed while on duty.
Father Luft said now that he has retired from parish ministry, he would have more time to ride with officers on patrol. The former pastor still listens to a police scanner throughout the day.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to get to know a police officer,” he acknowledged, talking about being out on patrol. “Once they get to know you, they open up. That’s the key.”
Father Luft now plans to travel and visit family members and friends. He will also have more time to enjoy reading.
The longtime pastor said that among the many changes he witnessed since his ordination were the time constraints placed on priests by administrative responsibilities, and the rise of secular influences on morality and ethics in contemporary society.
“When I was a young priest, everything was black and white. Now the color gray has expanded its place in people’s lives,” Father Luft observed.
Father Luft credits the late Father Thomas Kelley, pastor of St. William Church, Warwick, as being a good example of a parish priest and for fostering his vocation.
“My dad died when I was two, and when I was older, I worked in the church,” Father Luft recalled, adding that it was his responsibility to hang vestments after Mass and lock the church at night. Father Kelley paid him a salary of two dollars per week.
Father Luft studied for the priesthood at Our Lady of Providence High School and Seminary, Warwick Neck, and St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, Md.
One of the Our Lady of Providence faculty members who had the greatest influence on the future priest’s vocation was the late Msgr. John Cox, who taught English and physics in the high school and philosophy in the college program.
“He was a very intelligent man,” Father Luft remembered, adding that the seminary instructors served as good role models for him to emulate.
After being ordained to the priesthood on June 8, 1968 by Bishop Russell McVinney, Father Luft served at St. William Church, Warwick, Blessed Sacrament Church, Providence, and St. Patrick Church, Cumberland, before being named pastor of the former St. John Church in Providence in 1985 by Bishop Louis E. Gelineau. Five years later he was named pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Federal Hill, where he served until his retirement from parish ministry on July 1.
While ministering in Warwick, his childhood home, Father Luft also served as chaplain to that city’s fire and police departments. Since 1985, he has also served as chaplain to the Providence Police Dept., and will continue to perform that important ministry.
To meet the changing demographics of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Father Luft took courses in Spanish, and can read well enough to celebrate Mass in that language. He noted that more than 175 Hispanic families are registered in the Federal Hill parish who have emigrated from 12 different countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of my priesthood,” Father Luft commented. “I’ve never had a bad assignment. They were all different and I was able to enjoy each one.”