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Father Bart heading to ‘Sin City’

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He's a Dominican in shorts, the Pie priest, a kind of pied piper. He's Bartholomew Hutcherson, better known as Father Bart, and after Sunday he's headed for "Sin City."

Catholic priesthood has little in common with other careers, but one similarity is that if you do a good job, you're promoted, and often you have to relocate. So it is with Father Bart. Having spent four years building up the Newman Center for college students at St. Catherine's in Salt Lake City, he'll go on to his second assignment in one of the fastest-growing communities in the country — at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. He has mixed feelings.

"I've grown to love Salt Lake City," said Hutcherson, who's from Mobile, Ala. "But the challenge of creating programming that will attract (students at UNLV) is exciting."

The Rev. Denis Reilly, Hutcherson's boss and pastor of St. Catherine's, praised his assistant's energy, listing the ways he's helped turn the church into a center of activity.

Hutcherson organized spaghetti dinners after Sunday night Mass, impromptu trips to the Pie pizzeria, summer reading groups, the Snowball Christmas dances, classes about Catholic teaching on sexuality, the Cafe Newman open-mike nights and coffeehouses, a student trip to Rome for World Youth Day 2000 and trips to Notre Dame for campus-ministry conferences.

Next month, just before leaving for his new assignment at the UNLV's Newman Center, Hutcherson will lead the University of Utah's first youth minister gathering.

"He's spent a lot of time training peer ministers," said Reilly. "They're now saying, 'I don't have to be a priest or a sister to minister. It comes from my baptism.' "

"He made this a place to go not just on Sundays," said Jamie Johnson, a junior at the U. She's watched the congregation grow in her two years here, often to standing-room-only crowds at the 7 p.m. Mass.

"The biggest thing Father Bart has done is make people aware that it's a parish for both: the students and the regular congregation," said Bonnie Cervino, who comes from Holladay to attend Mass at St. Catherine's. "It's a very eclectic group of people that goes there."

"That's an exceptional example of what can happen," said the Rev. Daniel Syverstad, prior provincial of the Western Dominican Province.

But just as moving around the country is a reality of Catholic priesthood, so is the difficulty of finding the right mix of leading men in each parish. Father Bart's successor has yet to be found, and for a time, Reilly will be the sole pastor at St. Catherine's.

"It's not so much a shortage," said Syverstad. "It's finding the right combination." College-town Newman Centers, of which the province has 12, typically need younger priests. The average Dominican cleric in the western United States is 54 — "and we are the youngest province of Dominicans in the country," Syverstad said. But young men are entering the order. Come August the province's seminary, St. Albert Priory in Oakland, Calif., will have 39 men studying for the priesthood, including six from Utah. But it's an eight-year program.

It won't take eight years to find a new associate pastor for St. Catherine's, Syverstad said. "We're working on it."

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com