Fr. Ritter, 91, dedicated his life to selfless service of others

Fr. Edward Ritter

ST. CLAIR — Fr. Edward Ritter made a habit of showing up late to dinner.

Usually, it was because he had one more stop to make. Someone was ill in the hospital, or a grieving family needed his reassuring presence after the death of a loved one.

“He loved his parishioners and literally dedicated his life to them. It didn’t matter what time of the day or night; if someone needed him, he was there,” said Mary Miller, one of Fr. Ritter’s 16 nieces and nephews.

His family always understood. To them, as well as others, Fr. Ritter was “the epitome of a parish priest.”

Fr. Ritter, pastor of St. Mary Parish in St. Clair for 19 years, died Aug. 12 at the age of 91.

For Fr. Ritter, there was nothing more important in the world than his calling to be a priest. He viewed his ministry not as the manager of a parish, but as a pastor of souls, Miller said.

“He wanted to be of service to his fellow man, to bring them to heaven,” Miller said. “And he did that every single day. He never was too worried about finances; he worried about people. If somebody needed him in the middle of the night to make a hospital run, he got up in the middle of the night and made the hospital run.”

Fr. Ritter was born Jan. 18, 1926, in Detroit and attended Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Norwood, Ohio; Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit; and St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth Township.

He was ordained June 2, 1951, and celebrated his first Mass at St. Elizabeth Parish in Detroit.

He first served as assistant pastor at St. Joseph Parish, Port Huron (1951-56); St. Aloysius Parish, Detroit (1956-61); and St. Francis Xavier Parish, Ecorse (1966-69). He also had been chaplain at Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital starting in 1961.

Fr. Ritter served his first pastorate at St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish, Warren (1969-77), before later serving at St. Christopher Parish, Detroit (1977-82). Then, in 1982, he became pastor of St. Mary Parish in St. Clair, where he would spend the last 19 years of his ministry.

Though he retired in 2001, Fr. Ritter was active until his last years, Miller said, participating in first Friday devotions, making sick calls and helping out at weekend Masses.

When he wasn’t being a “fisher of men,” Fr. Ritter could usually be found fishing for fish, Miller said.

“He had a home on the St. Clair River and a boat dock right in front,” Miller said. “He was known for being a fisherman. The other guys wouldn’t be getting anything, and Fr. Ed would show them how to catch that fish.”

Miller said Fr. Ritter taught his nieces and nephews to love the outdoors as much as he did.

“He taught us to swim, he taught us to fish, he taught us to love the lakes and rivers,” Miller said, adding Fr. Ritter loved to travel to new places. “He was fun; he was our favorite uncle. We loved him.”

Fr. Ritter was always smiling, Miller said, and his authenticity came across to everyone he met.

Mostly, Miller said, it came from the deep gratitude Fr. Ritter felt toward God.

“The last conversation I had with him, he told me how much he appreciated everything everybody did for him,” Miller said. “He was always grateful to God for every blessing that he received, even when things were hard. He was grateful to the very end.”

A funeral Mass was celebrated for Fr. Ritter on Aug. 18 at St. Mary Parish in St. Clair. Interment will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Southfield.