Father George Lucas celebrates 50 years as a Holy Cross Missionary Priest

BRIDGEPORT—“To make God better known, loved and served” is a philosophy attributed to Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and one to which Father George Lucas, C.S.C. has subscribed for decades. And now, as he celebrates his 50th year of ordination, Father George, as this Bridgeport native is commonly known, says that being part of this missionary order has given him hope “wherever [he] has been asked to serve.”

On May 27, Father George and 19 other Holy Cross priests were honored as Jubilarians at a Mass in Notre Dame, Indiana, the headquarters of the United States Province of Priests and Brothers. Though he has spent the majority of his life as a Holy Cross missionary in some of the world’s most impoverished places, his faith journey began in the Diocese of Bridgeport, specifically at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield and in his home parish of St. Theresa in Trumbull where he was ordained on June 17, 1972.

Father George’s cousin Anne Fiyalka of Easton recalled being present at his ordination 50 years ago. “I remember being so proud,” said Fiyalka, now age 101. “I thought, ‘I personally know someone who is a priest!’ I am so proud of everything he does.”

As a teen, after being intrigued by the stories of the Holy Cross missionaries at Notre Dame High School, Father George knew he wanted to enter the priesthood. Serving the poor even while in high school, he worked in urban Providence, Rhode Island and rural eastern Kentucky. Upon graduation from Stonehill College, he studied theology at the Catholic University of America and the University of Notre Dame. As a deacon, he was assigned to a parish in Uganda, East Africa in 1969. Three years later, Father George came home to Trumbull to become the first priest ordained at St. Theresa’s though he returned to Africa following his ordination and continued to work in Kenya, Tanzania, and primarily Uganda for the next forty years.

According to Fiyalka, while he was in Uganda, Father George’s missionary work included instituting classes for religious education, acting as the vocation director of the Holy Cross fathers, and learning Swahili to better communicate with those he served. “He started many projects there and loved to see them to completion,” she said. “I often think of all the places he has been and the people he has helped.”

After decades in Africa, Father George, now 78, was transferred to Peru about 10 years ago where he currently serves as pastor at several parishes in the mountains outside Lima, continuing the missionary work he so loves and even planting a garden with abundant produce to help feed the people in his community. Fiyalka said he celebrates Mass at a number of chapels, many of which were built by the residents themselves. “They are like shacks with no roofs,” she added, “but Mass is no different there. It’s always the same. He can say Mass anywhere, even at my kitchen table!” And he has.

Whenever Father George returns to the United States, usually once a year, he visits Fiyalka in Easton and says Mass for her and her neighbors. “Sometimes, I’m the only one here and other times, it’s 10 to 12 people,” she said, adding that they keep in touch regularly through letters, cards, and phone calls.

In reflecting on this Jubilee event, her cousin’s 50 years as a priest, and the impact he has had on so many, Fiyalka was filled with admiration and respect for Father George’s service to the people of Uganda and Peru, Providence and Kentucky. “He has really brought Christ into their lives as a Holy Cross missionary,” she said. “I mentioned something to him recently about ‘when you retire,’ and he said, ‘A mission priest never retires!’ and that’s true. Once a priest, always a priest. They live the mission of Christ all their lives.”

By Emily Clark