Teacher, writer, artist, sculptor, slack key guitarist and recently ordained Episcopal Deacon Richard P. “Rick” Wirtz was born in 1939 in Honolulu. He is also the author of a well-known and highly praised book, Artists of Maui, a showcase of the island’s top talent, highlighting their achievements through interviews and artwork illustrating the four major regions of Maui.
Wirtz was raised on Maui in a family rich in Hawai’i history. “My grandfather, Rev. Epraim W. Clark, arrived on the third boat of missionaries in 1828,” said Deacon Wirtz. Rev. Clark’s celebrity came in 1856 as pastor of Kawaiaha‘o Church, when he performed the stately Church of England marriage service in both Hawaiian and English for Emma Rooke and Kamehameha IV.
“Grandfather also baptized the dying Prince Albert in a church ceremony,” he said.
Adorned by lei, Rick P. Wirtz celebrates the completion of a lifelong dream—his ordination as deacon. “I knew God wasn’t finished with me yet,” he said.
Wirtz’s home environment contributed greatly to his deep affection for Hawai‘i. “My dad, Judge Cable A. Wirtz, was city and county attorney in Honolulu at the time of Pearl Harbor and became Circuit Court judge on Maui shortly after,” said Wirtz.
Cable Wirtz was elected to the convention that wrote the Hawai‘i State Constitution prior to statehood, and also became a justice of the State Supreme Court.
“My mother, M. Virginia Wirtz, was involved in various charitable organizations on Maui, such as the Girl Scouts and Friends of the Library,” said Wirtz. She later became instrumental in the development of the Maui Historical Society and the zoning restrictions to preserve Lahaina. Shortly before her death, she was the director of Bailey House, then called “Hale Hoikeike.”
“I love Hawai‘i and its people,” Wirtz said. With a diploma from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, he returned to the islands to begin teaching and writing books. Within a short time, his affinity for the islands developed into a deep commitment to serve wherever and whenever needed.
“Wirtz is a real kama‘āina,” said Rev. Marvin Foltz of Good Shepherd Church in Wailuku. “He is a faithful friend devoted to church and community. He is familiar with the history of the islands while maintaining a strong connection to its current affairs.”
In 1990, while president of the Wailuku Rotary Club, Wirtz became involved in hospital ministry.
“He helped coordinate pastoral care for the community and the hospital,” said Rev. Foltz. To this day, Wirtz is involved in the Spiritual Care Giver program at Maui Memorial Medical Center.
“For years, Wirtz has been visiting patients, offering them support at a crucial time in their lives,” said Rev. Foltz. “He visits persons of all faiths and listens to their concerns, joys, fears and worries.”
Four years ago, Wirtz himself became a patient. His colon cancer, thought to be in remission, returned. “He never asked for sympathy and hardly anyone knew about it,” said Rev. Foltz.
Once chemotherapy began, a serious predicament arose. “My body rejected the first treatment and I stopped breathing for a while,” said Wirtz. Having survived this near-death experience, he thankfully offered himself to God’s service.
His lifelong desire to become a priest and serve at the altar was now something he felt compelled to pursue. Realizing that God was not finished with him yet, he applied to the Deacon Formation Program. Three-and-a-half-years later, on October 30, 2010, Rick P. Wirtz was ordained a deacon by Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu.
Bishop Fitzpatrick assigned Deacon Wirtz to serve at Trinity-By-the-Sea Church in Kīhei.
“How could we have known the blessing that was being bestowed upon us?” said Rev. Austin Murray, the pastor at Trinity. “Wirtz has given a new and refreshing dimension to the church’s ministry. Above all, he is a communicator. He has done so much to enhance Trinity’s media and worldwide Web presence by developing and implementing a brand new e-newsletter that goes out monthly. Brushing generational stereotypes aside, he has also worked successfully with the youth ministry of our church.”
Deacon Wirtz continues his ministry, caring for the sick and homebound and bringing comfort to those in nursing homes and hospitals. His boundless energy and commitment to serving God is all the more inspiring when one realizes that every two weeks, Wirtz receives chemo-therapy treatments that leave him feeling weak and ill.
“A man of prayer, Deacon Wirtz embraces the discomfort and offers it all to the glory of God,” said Rev. Murray. “By this offering of himself, he rebounds with renewed dedication for the Lord’s work.”