Pioneering Msgr. Humitz, who started CTND and served as Olympic chaplain, dies at 85

CLARKSTON — Msgr. Robert Humitz was never afraid to be the first to try something.

Whether it was skiing down a mountain or starting a television station from scratch, “Fr. Bob” was never content with the status quo — especially when it came to evangelization.

“One of his favorite expressions was, ‘Sooner or later, you’ve got to jump in the pool to learn how to swim,” Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon said. “What are we waiting for?’”

During his priesthood, Msgr. Humitz was a pioneer on many fronts. In the 1980s, he helped build the Archdiocese of Detroit's television station, the Catholic Television Network of Detroit, winning an Emmy for coverage of St. John Paul II's 1987 visit to Detroit. 

In 2004, he drafted the archdiocese's Total Pastoral Plan for Priests, which examined all aspects of a pastor's life, from parish governance to personal health and retirement. 

And in all things, he was an advocate for lay involvement in parish life.

Msgr.  Humitz died Aug. 1. He was 85.

Robert Humitz was born to Steven and Matilda Humitz in Detroit on March 29, 1934, the oldest of three brothers who grew up in Detroit and Bay City.

He attended Sacred Heart Seminary High School from 1949-52 before moving on to Sacred Heart Seminary College, graduating with a bachelor’s in 1956. He then attended St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth from 1956-60 to obtain his master’s and an advanced degree in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in 1960.

Fr. Humitz was ordained by then-Archbishop John F. Dearden for the Archdiocese of Detroit on June 4, 1960.

After serving as associate pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington from 1960-62, Fr. Humitz completed graduate studies in English and earned a master’s in divinity from the University of Detroit in 1966. He was associate pastor of Visitation Parish in Detroit from 1967-75 before being assigned to be director of religious education for the archdiocese from 1967-75.

During this time, Fr. Humitz kept up to date with the reforms happening with the Second Vatican Council, and was a key advocate in educating the laity on their role in the Church.

“He was a great priest and really focused on getting lay people involved in the parish,” said Fr. Rick Hartmann, who was a 19-year-old Visitation parishioner when Msgr. Humitz was assigned there. “He was helping lead the renewal of the parish as the Second Vatican Council documents were implemented, training people in new roles.”

Fr. Hartmann credits Msgr. Humitz with helping him discern the priesthood. The two kept in touch after Msgr. Humitz left Visitation.

“He was a very accepting and loving person,” Fr. Hartmann said. “He was very encouraging no matter where ministry would take you. And from that encouragement, there were a lot of seminarians and young priests who developed under him. He is one of the reasons I’m a priest today.”

In 1975, then-Fr. Humitz was assigned as pastor of St. Rita Parish in Holly, during which time he earned a master’s in cinematography from the University of Michigan.

He later was co-pastor of St. Patrick Parish in White Lake from 1976-82, before being tapped by then-Archbishop Edmund C. Szoka to build the Catholic Television Network of Detroit. During his time in charge of the network, he was also pastor of Mother of Our Savior Parish in Detroit (1982-89).

“Archbishop Szoka, with encouragement from Msgr. Humitz and others, saw an opportunity to get these TV frequencies from the government,” said Ned McGrath, director of public affairs for the Archdiocese of Detroit. “The government was leasing these frequencies for educational purposes, so we got these channels, and Msgr. Humitz built a studio from scratch out of the Gabriel Richard Building, rewiring and setting it all up.”

McGrath, who was served as director of communications for the archdiocese from 1991 to 2018, explained CTND was one of the first diocesan television stations in the country and was used as a tool to teach the laity about the Church.

“Msgr. Humitz was an educator, a catechist, who always was about learning,” McGrath said. “He had a number of classes he taught at the seminary, but he did a rebroadcast of the classes with Msgr. (John) Zenz, where key questions and lessons were broadcast to people’s homes.”

Msgr. Humitz won the Outstanding Service Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1990 for his work with CTND, McGrath said.

“He really knew that if the only way we communicated to the public was through secular media, the message would always be filtered,” McGrath said. “He used Catholic media in a way to inform and to inspire.” 

Msgr. Humitz also arranged for the broadcasting of the popular — and still running — “Mass for Shut-Ins” on Sundays on Channel 2, McGrath said.

“He was on the forefront of getting Catholic media into people homes,” McGrath said.

After his work covering St. John Paul II’s visit to Detroit, Fr. Humitz was made a monsignor in 1991.

Msgr. Humitz left the television station for his final assignment as pastor of St. Daniel Parish in Clarkston from 1992 to 2004. During his time at St. Daniel, Msgr. Humitz continued to be a pioneer in pastoral service, developing vicariate pastoral planning processes and the Total Pastoral Plan for Priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit.  

“He was a great pastor in how he influenced everyone in the parish, from the children to the young people to the adults to get involved with a different ministry of the church,” said Fr. Tony Richter, pastor of Guardian Angels Parish in Clawson, who was an deacon intern at St. Daniel when Msgr. Humitz was pastor.

“He’d organize parishes in a way so every person was important to the parish,” said Fr. Richter, who gave the homily during Msgr. Humitz’s funeral. 

An avid skier who was a chaplain in the Olympic Village during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, Msgr. Humitz maintained an active lifestyle. He was often seen riding dirt bikes, playing sports and cultivating friendships for more than 50 years.

“He made me aware of a lot of things in the Church during my internship, always assigning articles to read about what was happening in the archdiocese and around the world,” Fr. Richter said. “When we had any type of meeting, whether it was parish council or worship, he wouldn’t take over the meeting, he’d allow lay ministers, making sure they were well-trained, to run the meeting every once in a while, asking for their opinion. He wanted people to be leaders, to play an active role in the parish.”

In 2004, Msgr. Humitz stepped down from his role as pastor of St. Daniel, but continued to serve the church in Detroit as a consultant to the archdiocese for the “Together in Faith” pastoral plan in 2005 and the Total Pastoral Plan for Deacons for the archdiocese in 2006.

Msgr. Humitz’s funeral Mass was at St. Daniel on Aug. 6, after which he was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.

Msgr. Humitz is predeceased by his parents, Steven and Matilda Humitz; and his brother, James Humitz. He is survived by his brother, Timothy; sister-in-law, Kathy; John (Rebecca) Humitz; nieces, Karen (John) Kerkoff and Kathleen (Louis) Bourdrea; great-nieces, Nichole and Jessica; and great-nephews, Jordan, Cooper and Caily.