The life and legacy of the late Msgr. Felix Newton Pitt — a giant in the field of Catholic education — lives on to this day, most notably in his namesake school, Pitt Academy.
But to Pitt G. Thome he was simply Uncle Felix. Thome, 87, whose mother was the monsignor’s sister, has written a book detailing the educator’s life and ministry.
The comprehensive book — “Journey of a Country Soul” — chronicles Msgr. Pitt’s life, from his early years as a teacher and a priest in remote Taylor and Marion counties to his work in organizing what Thome describes as a “preeminent Catholic school system” in Louisville.
Msgr. Pitt, who died in 1971, led the Catholic school system in the Archdiocese of Louisville for 42 years.
Initially Thome said he began to research and write the book for a family history of a beloved uncle. But, as he delved into Msgr. Pitt’s life and work, he said, there was “a powerful story that needed to be told.”
Msgr. Pitt spent the majority of his career working to ensure children received the best Catholic education possible, Thome said.
In an excerpt from his book, Thome writes, “He held that the heart of a proper education was its spiritual and moral dimension, which in a Catholic sense meant a treasure trove of Church teaching and culture.”
Msgr. Pitt, a native of Fairfield, Ky., attended St. Michael Church there. He graduated from St. Meinrad College in 1915 and later attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md., where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1916 and 1917, respectively.
He also studied at Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. He was ordained a priest in 1920 at CUA. He later studied at Notre Dame University and received a doctorate degree from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland in 1933.
As a priest, he ministered at the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and was pastor of Our Lady of the Hills Church in Finley, Ky., and its surrounding missions.
“He always wanted to be a priest. He wanted to have a parish and minister to people and hear confessions, marry people, bury people,” Thome said in a recent phone interview.
The monsignor was appointed executive secretary of the Catholic School Board by Archbishop John A. Floersch for the Diocese of Louisville in 1924. In 1949, Msgr. Pitt established Ursuline Pitt School, now Pitt Academy, to educate students with special learning needs.
Thome said Msgr. Pitt thought children were the future of the church and believed they, and their parents, needed better catechesis in the faith.
The book draws from Msgr. Pitt’s own diaries and letters in an effort to show the priest’s faith journey, said Thome.
One such diary entry, which Thome includes in the book, reads: “My beloved children at school are all on their good behavior these days. I love to teach. … May God grant my influence and love for them. Keep them good and make them better men and women.”
The title of the book is taken from a description written by Father William McKune for the 45th anniversary of Msgr. Pitt’s ordination.
Father McKune, who was also the fourth editor of The Record, said of Msgr. Pitt: “He is just plain normal. A country soul at heart.”
“I thought it was a very good description of him,” Thome said. “He was a simple man, a humble man. But he was a brilliant man.”
Thome, a graduate of St. Francis of Assisi School and a 1947 graduate of St. Xavier High School, has lived in Rockville, Md., for 50 years. He retired as director of the Earth Observation Program at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Nancy, recently celebrated 60 years of marriage. The couple have four children and eight grandchildren.
“Journey of a Country Soul” is available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.