From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Diocesan priests honored for ordination anniversaries

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Aug. 1, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

(Editor’s note: Two priests of the Spokane Diocese, Fathers William Brennan and Terence Tully, celebrate 60 years of priesthood this year. Three other priests mark 25 years: Fathers Roy Floch, Tom Mele and Paul Vevik. Although schedules have not yet coincided for interviews with Fathers Floch and Vevik, the other three priests offered their thoughts about a life spent in priestly service to God’s people.)

Father William Brennan

Father William Brennan of Walla Walla retired from active ministry in 1986. This year marks his 60th anniversary of priesthood.

He was ordained May 30, 1942, at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, his alma mater, a distinction he shares with Bishop Skylstad.

Father Brennan is an Ohio native. In those days, men who were ordained at the Josephinum could choose where they would serve, depending, said Father Brennan, on the bishops who called the college looking for priests.

He said Spokane’s Bishop Charles White was the only bishop who would make personal visits at the college. “He would tell about his diocese,” during those visits, Father Brennan said, “about Wenatchee apples and Grand Coulee Dam. It was appealing to a young man,” especially if that young man wanted to go West, as Father Brennan did.

His first assignment in the Spokane Diocese was as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Walla Walla. In 1943 he became pastor of St. Francis Parish in Harrington.

The year 1951 brought a change in his ministry: Father Brennan was asked to return to the Josephinum to teach. Initially, the teaching assignment was to have been long-term, but Bishop White called Father Brennan back to pastoral ministry in 1953.

On his return to the diocese, Father Brennan went to Wilbur to become pastor at Sacred Heart Church. He served parishes in Colton, Pomeroy, Cheney and, for a short time, in Tekoa.

“Most of my assignments have been in wheat country,” he said. “I didn’t mind. You’re closer to the Gospel there.”

Most of Father Brennan’s priestly service in the diocese was in pastoral ministry. However, he also taught music and other subjects at Mater Cleri and Bishop White seminaries in the mid-1960s. “The music was a challenge,” he said, “since that was when liturgical music was changing” as a result of Vatican Council II.

One student, Father Tom Mele, recalled Father Brennan’s great love for music and his great patience in teaching students who were not all equally gifted in music.

Father Brennan wrote an alma mater song for Mater Cleri, and was bemused to say that his “10 years of fame is up,” since Mater Cleri is now closed. However, the song lives in the hearts of his students. At a recent 30-year Mater Cleri reunion, Father Mele said the former students sang the school’s special song. “I still know it by heart,” he said.

Father Brennan shares 60th anniversary honors with fellow priest Father Terence Tully. “He and I were ordained on the same day in the same year at the same time,” Father Brennan explained. “I’m his senior, though, since I was ordained in Eastern Standard Time.”

Father Brennan may be retired from active ministry but he is still active at age 86. He drives a car, although he said he doesn’t go far. He sings with the Walla Walla Symphony Chorale, which put on a concert of patriotic songs for the Fourth of July. He assisted at Masses at St. Francis of Assisi and Assumption parishes in Walla Walla until arthritis in his knees curtailed his ability to say Mass. He still helps with the singing, however.

Father Brennan has done some traveling. He and Father Tully visited Europe, and he appreciated learning the history of the places they visited. But a memorable trip was his time in the Holy Land.

“We stayed overnight in Tiberias,” he said. “I remember getting up early in the morning before anyone else, and going out on the balcony and reading the Scriptures. It was a special moment.”

But the true blessing for Father Brennan is being part of the cycle of life, of the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of the church’s liturgical year. “Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost ... the seasons of the Church are the life of the priest.”

As Father Brennan reflected on his life, he offered this observation, especially for newer priests: “Whatever good is done is not done without help. God and my fellow priests have helped me along the way. Even though I am old and 60 years have gone by, I am thankful. And I wish (all the priests) ad multos annos — many more years.”

Father Terence Tully

Father Terence Tully is a Spokane native, born 87 years ago at Sacred Heart Hospital. Sixty years ago Father Tully was ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. His ordination date was May 30, 1942.

Father Tully said he never had any particular thought of becoming a priest, at least not until eighth grade at St. Joseph School on Dean: “My eighth grade teacher said I should enter the seminary and so did my pastor.” He waited three years, attending Gonzaga High School for his freshman through junior years. Then he entered St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore near Seattle for his senior high school year.

His first two years of college were done at St. Edward, then Father Tully headed for the east side of the United States to study at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He earned a BA degree in philosophy, and then, having been awarded a philosophy scholarship, stayed an extra year to earn a master’s degree in the subject.

“I loved philosophy,” Father Tully said. “I didn’t love language studies,” he said, “the Latin, Greek and German. It was rough. But I was glad I had English.”

Father Tully returned to the Pacific Northwest and St. Edward Seminary to study for a master’s degree in theology. Ordination followed, and then his first assignment, as an associate pastor at St. Augustine Parish, Spokane.

Another assignment came Father Tully’s way in 1942, one in which he served a total of 19 years. In 1942 the late Bishop Charles White selected Father Tully to be editor of a diocesan newspaper he wanted to start. That’s when the Inland Register was born; it, too, will have a 60th anniversary this year.

Father Tully’s journalism education was short: a one-month introductory course in the Register system of Catholic newspapers in Denver, plus a journalism class at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The Register system, explained Father Tully, connected diocesan news and national news. Diocesan news was sent to Denver to be printed and then those pages were inserted into the national edition of the Register. The papers had the word “Register” in their names (hence the Inland Register) and each diocese had its own mailing list. “There were 35 dioceses that had Register papers,” said Father Tully. “It was a good system.”

Father Tully was the paper’s editor until 1959, when Father John Donnelly became editor. “I fell into it again when I was called to fill in for Father Donnelly while he was on vacation,” said Father Tully.“It was a long vacation; he was gone three years.” That was in 1963 and Father Donnelly had gone to Rome to cover the second Vatican Council. This time, Father Tully remained editor until 1967.

Because of his newspapering, Father Tully served as an associate pastor in most of the parishes to which he was assigned. He was a pastor in Wilbur and Coulee Dam, and in Rosalia, Oakesdale and Garfield.

Father Tully has been retired since 1989. He lives more quietly now, and no longer drives a car. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t active. Not only has he been a priest 60 years, he has been a chaplain for the Boy Scouts 60 years.

His involvement with Scouting started at St. Augustine. “Not long after I got there, Msgr. (Stephen) Buckley told me people there took Scouting seriously, and that I needed to get connected.” Interestingly enough, Father Tully was not a Scout when he was a boy. “I was too scared, I think. I bought a handbook, though, and did the stuff in it.”

Father Tully enjoys Scout activities, going on campouts and other events.

He has traveled extensively and has enjoyed visits to Europe and the Holy Land, some with his good friend, Father William Brennan, also ordained 60 years this year. He has been to at least nine World Fairs.

He has a good library, he said, but “I write more than I read.” What does he write? A column on Scouting for each issue of the Inland Register. Skits when he wants to “puzzle things out.” Material for Scouts to help form their spiritual lives. A current project for Scouts is called the “Trail of the Saints,” in which he is writing skits about various saints. (See Father Tully’s column in this issue for a more detailed explanation.)

Another interest for Father Tully is liturgy. He earned a master’s degree in liturgy from Notre Dame in 1977. “For me,” he said, “liturgy is the action of God’s people, led by their priests and bishops, to receive God’s blessings. It comes through the processions, the incense, the music.... It’s how we get connected with one another.”

Sometimes those connections are very fragile. Father Tully firmly believes that the “main problem in the world is poverty. In South America and the Muslim countries (and others), people don’t get enough to eat. If the world were a better place physically, the Gospel would be more attractive. Jesus spoke on the necessity of helping the poor, like an average of every 10 lines in the Gospel. If Jesus gave that much emphasis, it should be our emphasis. It seems to me so important.”

For new priests, Father Tully offers simple thoughts: “If you are aware that you’re where you should be, trust in the Lord to show the way.” He also encourages priests to use modern technology “to spread the faith.”

“I remember when I was first ordained, it was customary to send a telegram to your seminary. Mine went to St. Edward’s, saying, ‘Tell the first high it’s worth it.’”

St. Edward Seminary is closed now and most seminaries no longer have a “first high.” Even sending a telegram is an ancient practice. But for Father Tully, to live as a priest “is the best way to live, the best way (for me) for eternal salvation. I’m exactly where I belong.”

Father Tom Mele

Father Tom Mele of Walla Walla will note the 25th anniversary of his ordination to priesthood Oct. 8, 1977. But in another sense, his vocation is much older. “I’ve wanted to be a priest since I was five or six years old,” he said during a recent interview.

His formation was typical for seminarians of the 1960s: four years at Mater Cleri High School Seminary in Spokane and four more years at Bishop White Seminary. He earned a degree in philosophy at Gonzaga University while he was at Bishop White. Additional studies followed at St. Thomas Seminary in Seattle, where he earned a master’s degree in theology.

He was ordained at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Walla Walla, his hometown. His first assignment was at St. Augustine Parish in Spokane, under Father Albert Austen.

“I remember thinking then, ‘I don’t know what priests do or how they behave. How do priests act?’ Then the thought came to me, ‘You’re a priest. How do you act?’ That was when I realized I’m not that much different than the people I’m serving.”

He was assigned next as an associate pastor at St. Charles Parish in Spokane. He also worked part-time as a prison chaplain.

In 1982 he became pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Tekoa and St. Joseph Parish in Rockford.

From those two rural parishes Father Mele went into the Navy as a full-time chaplain. He was released for duty July 2, 1984, and returned to diocesan parish life in August 1995. Upon his return he was named pastor at St. Anne Parish, Medical Lake. From there he went to St. Thomas More Newman Center on the Washington State University campus in Pullman in 1999.

To be a good priest, Father Mele quoted Diogenes: “‘Know thyself.’ Anyone in a helping profession needs to understand himself, which is not as easy as it sounds,” he said.

Father Mele found inspiration in the lives of the saints. “Here are these great and wonderful people,” he said, “and they’re so much like me. They struggle like me and I realize there’s hope for me.”

Some saints are particular favorites: St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. But he said he has “a great affinity for St. Luke. You can see the compassionate and human Jesus in (St. Luke’s) Gospel.”

The good news of the “compassionate, human Jesus” can give hope to believers, he said. Father Mele is keenly aware that priests are human, that “they are broken people, too. In spite of their brokenness and human failings, they still need to spread the Gospel. Just because they spread the good news of Jesus doesn’t mean they don’t fall short. Falling short doesn’t mean they don’t believe it.”

To be a priest is to be part of a much larger picture, Father Mele said. He has read extensively about the Catholic Church and Christianity and has studied the long and rich history. “I’m so conscious that I’m simply part of that long tradition of faith,” he said.

He is also aware that he is just one priest in a long line of priests. “As I celebrate, I’m very mindful that I owe a great debt to all the priests who have gone before. All had an effect, a part in my formation.” It also reminds him that “I’m just a part of a big, big picture. I find that humbling.”

That is what he encourages new priests to study: “the big picture” of Christianity and Catholicism. “The good news of Jesus Christ can’t be contained in any one time or culture,” he said. “I hope they will do their best to understand the richness, the breadth, height, depth, and scope of all Catholic tradition. It’s a great hallmark of our faith.”

To know the scope of faith brings perspective to ministry. “People want to be able to put what they experience in the bigger context of the whole church,” Father Mele said. “There’s a hunger in the human heart for God’s presence. People want to know the church cares about them and wants to give them a sense of the divine, most especially at those key moments of life and death.”

Some key moments in Father Mele’s life came during his service as a military chaplain, being with people at critical times of their lives.

“My greatest blessings came from the people,” Father Mele said. “It’s wonderful to work with people who are spiritually hungry and want to grow. I have the fondest recollections of the people I served” wherever he ministered.

Father Mele will return to academe this fall, but as a student. He will begin study at Boston College toward a master’s degree in social work. He is considering the possibility of becoming a teacher, but whatever he does will be in the context of his vocation: “I love being a priest,” he said.

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