DETROIT — Fr. Clifford F. Ruskowski, who died Sept. 15 at age 76, is remembered as “God’s shepherd extraordinaire,” a gifted communicator who used his talents to help people to grow in wisdom and grace over his five decades of priesthood in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Judy Holmes, who knew Fr. Ruskowski throughout his priesthood and worked with him in pastoral education, spoke for many when she said: “His talents as a preacher, teacher, poet, dramatist, radio/television host and conversationalist were extraordinary. He was a gift to everyone who knew him. He engaged people of all ages in exploring the deeper meaning of our lives, relationships and faith.”
Msgr. Robert Humitz, who developed the Catholic Television Network of Detroit cable TV channel, said of Fr. Ruskowski, “He was always interested in how we communicate the message and get it out to the people.”
He spoke of Fr. Ruskowski’s long-running radio program, “Merry-Go-Round,” and his later work with CTND.
Besides his weightier TV programs, such as “You Are the Church” and “Crisis in the Church,” Msgr. Humitz recalled the light-hearted “Funny Fathers” that Fr. Ruskowski produced for CTND in the 1980s. “The set was like a rectory living room where priests would get together and tell the funny things that had happened to them,” he said.
Fr. Louis Grandpre, a longtime friend, said: “The most salient thing about him was his faith — it was very deep.”
Fr. Ruskowski was weekend associate at St. Ives Parish, Southfield, and later at St. Paul of Tarsus Parish, Clinton Township, when Fr. Grandpre was pastor. “His preaching was second to none,” he said. “He had a charisma about him. People would seek him out. At St. Ives, people would sometimes do a ‘doubleheader’ — come to my Mass and then Father Cliff’s just to hear his homily.”
Colleen Burcar, a parishioner at St. Ives at the time, agreed. “I can remember standing-room-only as Father Cliff lovingly engaged every parishioner through his stimulating and inventive homilies, always laced with his inimitable sense of humor. He was truly God’s shepherd extraordinaire.”
JoAnn Cusmano, who first met Fr. Ruskowski as a child at Church of the Ascension in Warren, remembered that his speaking talents were challenged at her wedding when her sister, the maid of honor, fainted and was carried off the altar. “He never stopped speaking,” she said, adding that his calm manner saved the moment, as everyone listened to his reflections about the need for communication and forgiveness: “Such a wonderful man of God.”
Fr. Ruskowski’s ministry included roles as professor, radio and television producer, playwright and director, and he won awards for teaching and broadcasting. He was on the faculty of St. Mary’s College, Orchard Lake; SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary, Orchard Lake; St. John Provincial Seminary, Plymouth; and Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit.
Msgr. Thomas Machalski, chancellor of Orchard Lake Schools, was a student of Fr. Ruskowski’s. “He was a gifted homilist who knew how to make the Scriptures come alive in ways that applied to daily life,” Msgr. Machalski said. “He was my spiritual director when I was in the Program of Priestly Formation as a student of St. Mary’s College. His priestly example, challenging words, and gentle guidance have helped me to be the priest that I am today.”
Fr. Ruskowski was born Aug. 4, 1936, in Detroit, and was ordained on June 2, 1962. In addition to St. Paul of Tarsus, St. Ives, and Church of the Ascension, his associate assignments included St. Kevin Parish, Inkster; and National Shrine of the Little Flower Parish, Royal Oak. He was pastor of Our Lady of the Woods Parish, Woodhaven, from 1991-96; and St. Owen Parish, Bloomfield Hills, from 1999-2007. As pastor, he had a canine “associate,” his beloved dog Spencer, who died a few months before Fr. Ruskowski retired from full-time ministry in 2007.
Archbishop Vigneron celebrated Fr. Ruskowski’s funeral Mass Sept. 19 at the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake on the Orchard Lake Schools campus.
Michigan Catholic reporter Robert Delaney contributed to this report.