Remembering two remarkable men

Father Marcin Zuhuta
Dr. James Cutsinger

Columbia and the University of South Carolina lost two important members of their religious community who died recently within two weeks of each other – Dr. James Cutsinger, 66-year-old religious studies professor and scholar on February 19, 2020, and Father Marcin Zuhuta, 42-year-old Catholic pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, the Catholic student chapel on March 1, 2020.   

Professor Cutsinger arrived at USC immediately after earning his PhD from Harvard in 1980 and taught comparative religions and mystical theology to thousands of students.  He focused on the mystical and contemplative components of five world religions, the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths, as well as contemporary esoteric movements and individuals.

He taught that, “Each of the great traditions also has a third ‘dimension,’ a spiritual heart, in which the deeper meaning of those beliefs and practices comes alive, and where the spiritual pilgrim may discover, beyond the level of seemingly contradictory forms, an inner commonality with those who follow other paths.”

His unique instruction booklet for his students, “A Breviary of English Usage,”  is a fifteen-page handout on proper writing form, illustrated with many grammatical errors beside corrected examples. The booklet is free-of-charge, online to download from:  www.cutsinger.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/breviary_of_english_usage.pdf 

He used the “Socratic Method” of teaching in which asking a line of questions can inevitably lead to one’s own answers.  

Cutsinger was a widely published scholar and author. His Wikipedia page at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cutsinger provides a bibliography of his publications, awards and links to much more. 

During his two-year battle with cancer, former students around the world communicated their deep appreciation for his teachings and friendship. 

“Far more precious than any skills, James made me realize the connection between ideas and life, between what one studied and how one lived, between knowledge and virtue” (Wade Kold, 2000 history graduate, in USC’s “Carolinian” Winter 2020).

“He was intense in his beliefs but very open to hear ideas different than his. He genuinely wanted to understand in order to deepen his own beliefs and helped me a lot with my own” (Martine Naar, my friend who had hoped to continue in his classes). 

The second death was of Father Marcin Zuhuta, Catholic student chapel’s pastor of St. Thomas More Parish who died suddenly on a Sunday after suffering a stroke.  His parishioners and friends across the campus, around Columbia and beyond were completely shocked and bewildered. 

Polish by birth and upbringing, Zuhuta was unique among priests. At the time of his death, he was especially busy completing his dissertation for a doctorate degree.   

One pundit described him as, “a priest who kept the schedule of someone who believes in Heaven… playing soccer with university students, making surprise visits to fraternities and sororities on campus, hanging out at local bars, sitting in confessional for hours and taking phone calls late into the night.”

His first hope of becoming a priest began at the time of his first communion when he was training to be an altar boy in Poland at age 10.    

“When I was up on the altar, I felt like I wanted to stay close to the altar for the rest of my life.  Becoming a priest would let me do that.” 

At age 20, after he arrived in America in 2000,  knowing only two words in English, “Hi” and “OK,” he quickly mastered the language while completing his years of training to become a priest. 

The day before his death, Zahuta visited close friends, former USC President John Palms and his wife Norma, at their Isle of Palms home. Palms was reported saying, “There was no indication anything was wrong… he was in good spirits.” 

Whether death comes quickly and surprising everyone or slowly with time to complete plans for farewells, we can be grateful for such remarkable people even if this knowledge comes when we can only read about them and imagine such intelligence, fortitude and manifold gifts.      

Susan Hendricks leads personal writing groups and workshops approved by the SC Social Work Examiners Board for CEU credits for mental health counselors and is an instructor for the Therapeutic Writing Institute online.  All of her Columbia Star columns are online at www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.

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