Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



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


Anniversaries of ordination: 60 years for Msgr. Rosage; 25 for Father Kwiatkowski

Story and photos by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the July 31, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Msgr. David Rosage (left) lives quietly now in a tidy apartment at Rockwood Lane in Spokane. On May 30 he noted 60 years as a priest, and celebrated with Mass at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which he founded in 1958.

Msgr. William Van Ommeren, now the retreat center’s spiritual director, was presider for the Mass, with Msgr. Rosage concele-brating. Among the guests were Msgr. Rosage’s two remaining siblings, his younger sisters from Michigan and Pennsylvania.

At age 90 Msgr. Rosage is housebound and doesn’t feel well, even though his appearance suggests good health. Arthritis has crippled him and even such ordinary tasks as buttoning a shirt can take much longer to accomplish. He gave up his car three years ago and has someone do his shopping for him. Deacon John Ruscheinsky, now IHRC’s director, visits him each week and arranges to take him places as needed.

Though his body is slowing down, Msgr. Rosage’s mind is sharp. He can recall memories of past events with little trouble and enjoys sharing them with visitors. He still reads the paper and one wall of his apartment is lined with books. He made a small chapel at one side of his bedroom and on the days when his health permits, he says Mass. The centerpiece of the chapel is a beautiful tabernacle which was a thank-you gift from the retreat center.

Msgr. Rosage grew up in a devout Catholic family in Johnstown, Penn., one of six children. He recalled meeting several priests who inspired his vocation, but one in particular stands out. “His name was Msgr. Cawley, and he was the principal of our school,” he said. “He had a chance to pitch in the major leagues and gave it up to enter the seminary. I was very impressed someone would do that.”

He entered Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio in 1932 and the college’s seminary in 1937. Bishops in need of priests would often visit the college to recruit seminarians. Msgr. Rosage recalled that Bishop Charles White of the Spokane Diocese brought him and “about five” others out to teach catechism in the diocese a couple of summers. “That was before I was ordained,” he said. Since he had already said “yes” to the bishop to serve in the diocese, “That was it. I couldn’t change my mind.”

His first assignment was at Marycliff High School, where he taught religion classes. He also served as diocesan youth director. In 1943 he was appointed assistant pastor at St. Ann Parish in Spokane, an assignment which stretched to 13 years when the pastor, Msgr. Theophilus Pypers, was taken ill.

In 1956 Father Rosage was appointed to start Our Lady of Fatima Parish, a task he barely got rolling before Bishop Bernard Topel asked him to start a retreat program in the diocese and build a retreat center.

Msgr. Rosage proved equal to the task. With two committees of committed men and women, he purchased the property, in a scenic area on the South Hill, and built the center. “The biggest challenge,” he said, “was that in those days no one knew what a retreat house was.” Religious orders had them, he said, but “lay people were not familiar with it.”

That gave rise to another challenge: to promote retreats. “We had a slide presentation, no videos in those days, that we would show at a ‘Fireside Chat.’ Then we would explain about the retreat center and its programs,” he said. A Fireside Chat would be held wherever they were able to get a gathering of six or so people in a parish.

Msgr. Rosage said they gave the presentation “hundreds of times all over the diocese,” sometimes two or three times a day. “Retreats need to be promoted. Of the retreat centers that have closed, I noticed that they often lacked promotion.”

In 1967 he was named a monsignor and on the occasion of his golden jubilee as a priest, in 1993, he received a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II. The blessing is framed and hangs in his apartment.

Msgr. Rosage had another career of sorts, one that worked well with retreat life. He is the author of “40-some” books. Writing was part of his life, since the monsignor was active in literary circles in his college years. He also served as an associate editor of a mission magazine.

His first book was titled Letters to An Altar Boy, written in 1952. His favorite, though, is one that was recently republished: Speak, Lord, Your Servant Is Listening. It features Scripture verses with brief explanations for each day. His books have focused on building up a sense of prayer in the reader.

Msgr. Rosage wouldn’t change a single thing of his priesthood. One highlight he recalled was the number of people influenced by retreats who converted to Catholicism. By the time he retired from the retreat center in 1989, he estimated the number at “about 500 people,” he said.

Another highlight was introducing the 30-day retreat. “People from 29 countries have come to make this retreat,” he said.

Msgr. Rosage not only promoted retreats, he gave retreats as well. He has given countless retreats, he said, not only at IHRC but all over the world. For several years he gave retreats to an order of Religious Sisters in the Holy Land. He still gives spiritual direction to about six people, and recalled being spiritual director for Bishop William Skylstad “who came to me when he was a student.”

Bishop Skylstad is very appreciative of the retreat apostolate. He expressed gratefulness to Msgr. Rosage “for his dedication to his mission. He’s been a gift, not only to our diocese but to the whole Church.”

Msgr. Rosage has always had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and he has written several books about her, including one for the millenium year 2000. His own mother died when she was 35 years old, leaving the father to raise the six children.

“There was a distinct connection between his priesthood and the Blessed Virgin,” said Dominican Sister K.C. Young, who became director when the monsignor retired. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a more priestly or devout man, and I think his staying power was his wonderful devotion to Mary.”

Long-time friend Barbara Ries agrees. “He’s such a prayerful man,” she said. “His kind and caring way and his love for the Lord have been an inspiration to me.”

The monsignor is more than an inspiration, though. Said Ries, “His wisdom and guidance have been invaluable” in the more than 10 years she’s known him.

Msgr. Rosage had already retired from the retreat center by the time Mary Krone started working there 14 years ago. “One of my jobs when I first came was to type his manuscripts,” she said. “I feel privileged to know him and to have worked for him.”

Anyone asking Msgr. Rosage about a vocation to the priesthood would be quizzed. “I would ask them why they want to be a priest. Then I’d explain what a vocation is, that it’s a call from God. We don’t decide on our own, but we have to be open to the call.”

Msgr. Rosage has been faithful to his own call. “It’s a fulfilled life,” he said. “It’s beautiful and wonderful and I thank God every day for it.”

*****

Ever eat termites? Father Mike Kwiatkowski (right) of St. Joseph Parish in Colbert has, and describes the experience as somewhat similar to eating popcorn.

Where on earth did he eat termites? In Africa.

Father Kwiatkowski began priesthood 25 years ago as a Comboni missionary, serving in Uganda. The Combonis work with the very poor in 41 nations throughout the world, and their founder, Bishop Daniel Comboni, will be canonized in October.

“Many of the Ugandans could eat the termites live, but I was never able to manage that,” Father Kwiatkowski said. “When fried in oil, with lemon and salt added, they’re not too bad.”

Father Kwiatkowski, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, wanted to become a missionary. He entered the Comboni Missionaries North American Province and in 1973 was sent to a Comboni seminary in Uganda to study theology. He was ordained in Toledo on Dec. 30, 1978.

His African experiences, most good, some not so good, would fill a small book. “It was a real shock,” he said. “I was naive and idealistic, with a degree in psychology,” entering a culture that “was primitive as could be.” Further he was in Uganda at the time of dictator Idi Amin, a period of great upheaval in the country.

One memory was that of gunfire being exchanged between officers at a Uganda police station and the soldiers at a military installation, two groups that did not like each other. Unfortunately the Comboni seminary where he lived at that time was situated between the two. Father Kwiatkowski said on those nights when the bullets were whizzing back and forth, “if we had to use the bathroom, we’d creep down the hall.”

Even though there were tough times, Father Kwiatkowski enjoyed his years in Africa. “I made some good friends there,” he said. The people of Uganda were friendly, “with a great sense of hospitality.”

He also appreciated the Ugandans’ sense of celebration. “They would come at four or five p.m. before midnight Mass at Christmas and they would dance while they waited. They would dance after Mass, too, until the morning. Even in their poverty, they knew how to celebrate.”

Father Kwiatkowski returned to the United States and served in a black-Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles. This was in the early 1980s and he began questioning his vocation as a missionary and even as a priest. His spiritual director knew Msgr. David Rosage in Spokane and suggested that Father Kwiatkowski spend a year at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center “to figure out where I was going.” He heard God tell him: “I will be with you wherever you land. Just land someplace.”

“Landing” at the retreat center proved to be a blessing. “I owe a lot to Msgr. Rosage. He was willing to give me a place to work things out.” The one year turned into two, with Father Kwiat-kowski giving retreats during that time, a ministry he greatly enjoyed. He said he might return to it one day when he retires from parish ministry.

In 1985 he became an associate pastor at the Cathedral and in 1988 was incardinated into the Spokane Diocese. After that he was assigned to the Newport, Usk, Ione and Metaline Falls parishes. After a sabbatical at Notre Dame in early 1994, he was assigned to Colbert, where he has been since.

During his time at St. Joseph, Father Kwiatkowski has seen the parish grow from 300 families to 700. He has high praise for the parish staff: “They work very hard and they’re very supportive.” His parish ministry has been shaped by his African experiences. “My time in Uganda gave me a very practical, pastoral sense,” Father Kwiatkowski said, “and definitely made a difference in my formation.”

Father Kwiatkowski credits his grandparents, especially his grandmother, for fostering his vocation. “They were the kind of people who would go to every church-sponsored chicken dinner they could get to,” Father Kwiatkowski said. “My grandmother was always bringing home brochures and other information about vocations.” She never pressured him, though, telling him that it was his decision to become a priest. “She gave me the freedom to do what I felt was best.”

His father is deceased, but his mother, Geri Kwiatkowski, lives in Florida and is coming to visit next month. His sister lives in Toledo.

Father Kwiatkowski doesn’t consider priesthood any tougher than any other life. In fact, he thinks the married state may be tougher. But in either one, he said, “it’s death to self, becoming less so Christ can become more.” He encourages people considering a vocation to the priesthood or Religious life to “keep an open mind, develop a deep prayer life and test their hearts for service.”

Father Kwiatkowski chose service to celebrate his silver anniversary. He asked his parish to do some kind of volunteer project rather than give him a party. (“Parishioners honor pastor’s anniversary with donation of volunteer time,” IR 6/12/03). The parish contacted Catholic Charities and spent a day cleaning and painting at Summit View, an apartment complex for low-income, single parent families. About 125 parishioners took part. Father Kwiatkowski preferred the volunteer project since, he said, “Priesthood is about service.”

The grace of priesthood has also come in another way, through the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation. “I’m not the most gifted person,” he said. “But God works through me to help people let go of pain and come to healing. I’ve seen God’s graces work in people’s lives.

“It’s been worthwhile.”


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