Father Charlie led me, and so many others, to Christ
I first met Father Charlie Irvin in the fall of 1987. I had made the decision to return to the Church after having been away from the active practice of my faith for about four years. I had realized that something was missing in my life, and that something was a relationship with God and the Church. So, one Sunday morning I got into my little blue Chevy and drove to a Catholic church that I had seen many times during my years in Ann Arbor – St. Francis of Assisi parish. LIttle could I have known that the weekend I felt called to go back to church was the same weekend that the ministry team at St. Francis was hosting its annual autumn welcome weekend, which marked the resumption of many parish programs and ministries after summer vacation, and which was an opportunity to invite people to become involved in those programs.
I think by the time the weekend was over, I had joined the choir, agreed to serve as a sponsor in the RCIA, and was present for a celebration of the Eucharist that captivated me. The Mass was beautiful, the homily was engaging and I felt as though I had found my new spiritual home. I had also had my first experience of Father Charlie Irvin, the new pastor of St. Francis. I look back on that weekend and I have come to realize that I was hungry – spiritually hungry – and Father Charlie clearly knew where to find the food that a hungry seeker such as I needed in order to be satisfied. I was hungry for Jesus, and Father Charlie led me and so many others straight to him, as he would do for all of the 54 years of his priestly ministry.
As I write this, I find it hard to believe that Father Charlie died just a little over a month ago. I find it equally hard to believe that he has been such an integral part of my life for 34 years. I was honored to be able to preach the homily for Father Charlie’s funeral Mass at the cathedral in Lansing. A few years ago, Father Charlie selected John 21:15-19 as the Gospel to be proclaimed at his funeral. In that Gospel, Jesus and Peter meet on the seashore after the Resurrection. There, over breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, a fisherman, to make a career change. Peter is to become a shepherd, caring for and feeding the lambs of Christ’s flock, the Church. To do so, Peter would need to know where to find pasture, water and food for hungry sheep. The same was true for Father Charlie. He knew where to find safe pasture for the flock, leading them to the Water of Life. Having shared with them this life-giving water, the water of baptism, Father Charlie would also know where to find the Food – the Eucharist – that would sustain the hungry flock he would work to shepherd for so many years.
More than 20 years ago, Father Charlie worked with Bishop Mengeling to launch FAITH magazine, because they both knew that people are hungry for stories of faith, stories that inspire and reassure, stories of God’s ongoing work in the world. Father Charlie knew that one of the best ways to lead people to safe pasture, to the Water of Life and to the Eucharist, would be to teach as Jesus taught – with stories that captivate the imagination, warm the heart and stir the soul. As one of those hungry sheep, I will be forever grateful that Father Charlie knew where to find the Food – the Bread of Life. May all that we do through the ongoing work of FAITH magazine help others to find that Food, Jesus. And so, our journey in FAITH continues.
Father Charles E. Irvin
January 6, 1933 – February 11, 2021
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Father Charles E. Irvin, age 88, of DeWitt, passed into eternal life on Feb. 11, 2021. Father Charlie was born January 6, 1933, in Ann Arbor, and was the only child of Charles and Virginia Irvin.
He attended University High School, and remained in Ann Arbor to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, a law degree and a Master’s of Business Administration, all from the University of Michigan. While working as a lawyer for Continental Bank in Chicago, he discerned a call to the priesthood.
Father Charlie studied for the priesthood at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. On June 3, 1967, he was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit by Archbishop John Cardinal Dearden at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit.
Father Charlie spent 11 years as the pastor of St. Mary Student Parish in Ann Arbor, where he was a driving force in campus ministry. He was a perfect choice as pastor, since he was a dyed-in-the-wool Wolverine. In later years, he enjoyed teasing Michigan State fans about The University of Michigan.
In 1971, the boundaries of the dioceses of Michigan were reconfigured, and Washtenaw County became part of the Diocese of Lansing, along with Father Charlie.
In 1979, he was named the first pastor of the newly established parish of Holy Spirit in Hamburg. He remained there until 1987, when he became the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, back in his beloved Ann Arbor. Under his leadership, the church and parish engaged in a number of renovations. In 1997, Father Charlie was appointed as pastor of St. Mary in Manchester. It was from there that he retired from active ministry in 2002.
During his 54-years of priesthood, Father Charlie served on many diocesan and national committees which often drew upon his business and legal acumen. The contribution he made to the Church of which he was most proud was FAITH magazine, the official publication of the Diocese of Lansing, in 1999. Father Charlie was its founder and remained its editor until his retirement in 2001. He continued to write a popular column, The Last Word, until 2016.
He was also a prolific writer and evangelist, and was the author of a book on The Our Father, as well as a video series explaining the Mass. His deep faith is expressed in his words from an interview in FAITH a few years ago: “I think the good news is that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and death doesn’t have power over us. ... God will not separate himself from us, as long as we let him stay close to us.”
As an only child, Father Charlie cherished the relationships he had with his fellow priests, his parishioners, and the staff of FAITH Catholic. He is survived by his cousin, Robert Ayres, and several members of his extended family. Those who loved him and were loved by him will miss him deeply, but rejoice that he is at peace with God.