Editor’s note: Updated with funeral arrangements and comments throughout.
COLUMBIA—The community of St. Thomas More Church at the University of South Carolina, and the diocese as a whole, was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Father Marcin Andrzej Zahuta, pastor of St. Thomas More.
Father Zahuta died March 1 of complications from a stroke. He was 42.
The viewing for Father Zahuta will be held Thursday, March 5, from 2-6 p.m. at the Basilica of St. Peter, located at 1529 Assembly St. A Christian wake service will follow at the Basilica at 6:30 p.m.
On Friday, March 6, visitation will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Dunbar Funeral Home, 3926 Devine St.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held on March 12 at 11 a.m. in the Basilica of St. Peter in Columbia. Burial will be at the Communal Cemetery Golabkowice in Nowy Sacz, Poland, at a later date.
Father Zahuta was born Nov. 23, 1977, the fifth child of the late Jozef Zahuta and Emilia Szymanska in Nowy Sacz, Poland. He attended Major Seminary in Tarnow, Poland; and graduated from SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Mich., where he earned master’s degrees in divinity and theology. He also held a license in theology from the University of Cardinal Stephan Wyszynski in Poland.
He was ordained and incardinated for the Diocese of Charleston on June 3, 2006. His assignments included serving as parochial vicar at St Mary Help of Christians in Aiken (2006-2007) and St Gregory the Great in Bluffton (2007- 2008). He was appointed as chaplain for the St. Thomas More Center at USC in 2008 and elevated to pastor in 2015.
In an interview with The Catholic Miscellany, Father Zahuta said he first felt the call to the priesthood at age 10, when he was training to be an altar boy at his home church.
“When I was up on the altar, I felt like I wanted to stay close to the altar for the rest of my life,” he said. “Becoming a priest would let me do that.”
Father Marcin gave up a career as a professional soccer player to pursue his call to the priesthood.
He came to the United States because of a desire to become a missionary priest, leaving his homeland to serve in other areas of the world that needed Catholic priests. When he first arrived in America in 2001, he could speak only two words of English: “Hi” and “OK.” He quickly mastered the language, learned about American culture and prepared himself for a future of ministry here. He said he applied to work in South Carolina because he felt could be of use in the rapidly growing diocese.
After arriving at the University of South Carolina in 2008, Father Zahuta quickly discovered that it was a fertile place for ministry to people of all ages. He served the spiritual needs of students and adults alike in his role at St. Thomas More, providing a vibrant outreach to students who visited the Newman Center on campus, and offering spiritual guidance to a Catholic young adults group in Columbia.
Youth, young adults, staff, people in the USC community and across the diocese have sent an outpouring of love for Father Zahuta and the impact he had on their lives. As of this writing, people had left more than 1,ooo comments on the Diocese of Charleston’s Facebook page.
Friends and co-workers at St. Thomas More Church said Father Zahuta’s personality made it easy to serve God’s people.
“His planning mind operated at very high levels yet he also could step back and consider the perspective of others,” said Deacon Stephen Brown, who handles religious education. “He valued the input of his staff to ensure the greatest success to whatever we tried to do at the parish.”
Donna Schaffer, director of music ministry, was still processing the impact of Father Zahuta’s death, both personally and professionally.
“He helped us all to truly reflect the light of God,” she said.
Father Zahuta made such an impression on USC alumni Jorge Villamizar that he had recordings of the priest’s homilies sent to him after graduating in 2013 and returning home to Medellin, Colombia.
“Father Marcin had a simple, straightforward way to transmit eternal truths,” Villamizar said via email. “The magic behind his ministry at USC lay in his ability to formulate simple advice that was equally useful for the most ardent Catholic student as well as secular students still unsure about who they were.”
Villamizar said he still recalls many of Father Zahuta’s simple words of advice. He would tell students to turn off TV, which he called the “Idiot Box,” and urge them instead to “tune into the classroom of silence.” He also frequently reminded them to “be part of the solution, not the problem.”
He also recalled the incredible reverence that Father Zahuta showed while celebrating Mass.
“When Father Marcin stepped on the altar, every one of his movements and words transmitted reverence and love,” Villamizar said.
Father Zahuta was recently featured in a 2019 book by Kevin Wells, titled “The Priests We Need to Save the Church.”
Father Zahuta is preceded in death by his father, Jozef, and a brother, Tadeusz. He is survived by his mother, Emilia, three sisters, Iwona Dabrowska, Teresa Zahuta and Kristina Zahuta, plus other close relatives, all of whom live in Poland.
Editor’s Note: To listen to the recordings of Father Zahuta’s homilies, courtesy of Jorge Villamizar , visit https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMG0gthkywWbN4hwhMyv-PCrbHgrFRrn8.