Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Jesuit priest’s 50 years of priesthood rooted in Spokane
Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the July 31, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Jesuit Father Leon Kapfer (left) is Spokane born and bred but his 50 years as a priest have been served mostly on the west side of the state and in Oregon. His anniversary was noted with a Mass and reception June 28 at Jesuit House in Spokane. Father Kapfer drove over from St. Joseph Church in Seattle, his current assignment, to greet his many family members and friends for the occasion.
At 81 years of age, Father Kapfer is in remarkably good health. He has a pacemaker and two artificial knees – “I’m a bionic man,” he joked – but otherwise, he feels just fine. He is an associate pastor at St. Joseph, an assignment he can continue as long as his health allows.
Father Kapfer was born in the Hillyard section of Spokane, and grew up in St. Patrick Parish. He attended all eight grades of school at St. Patrick School, operated in those years by the Sisters of the Holy Names. He went to Gonzaga High School, which located at that time on the first floor of the administration building at Gonzaga University.
Jesuit priestly formation used to take 15 years. Father Kapfer started his journey as a Jesuit at the novitiate, located in those days at Sheridan, Ore. He spent four years there and then returned to Spokane to attend classes at Mount St. Michael. A three-year teaching stint followed at Marquette High School in Yakima.
Father Kapfer studied theology at Alma College near San Jose and was ordained after his third year in the school. He was ordained by Spokane’s Bishop Charles White on June 20, 1953, at St. Aloysius Church in Spokane.
He finished his fourth year at Alma College and then spent the final year of his tertianship at Port Townsend, Wash.
Father Kapfer credits two groups for sparking his interest in becoming a priest.
First were the Holy Names Sisters at St. Patrick School. “They promoted vocations,” he said, “and they were certainly a big influence.” He has kept in contact with the Sisters over the years.
The other influence came from the Jesuit scholastics at Mount St. Michael. The scholastics taught at Gonzaga High School and shared their lives with students. “Those guys were great,” Father Kapfer said.
The priest’s assignments have been few but lengthy. His first was at Bellarmine High School in Tacoma – at that time, for boys only – where he taught senior English and served as librarian.
In addition he became the rector’s assistant, “doing practical stuff,” and also served as a supply priest in parishes on weekends. He was also one of the chaplains at McNeill Island penitentiary. If he could change anything, he said, it would be in this area, where he recalled “being too busy, which was sometimes frustrating.”
He volunteered for his next assignment: in Zambia, Africa. That lasted 10 years. He taught in a seminary which had 200 young men from high school to college age.
Father Kapfer returned to the United States and to Spokane, when his mother was dying of cancer. He taught Latin at Gonzaga High School for “two or three years” to freshmen and sophomores. Then he went to work in the Jesuit mission office in Portland as a promoter and fund-raiser for Jesuit missions.
In 1989 he became an associate pastor at St. Joseph, Seattle. He says Mass once a day and visits the elderly in their homes, hospitals and nursing homes. Because of that Father Kapfer said he does “a lot of funerals. But I do weddings, too.” He said he tries to keep active “for my age.”
Father Kapfer would encourage anyone who is thinking about entering Religious life. “God uses our emotions and intelligence... and I would tell them to follow what they feel comfortable with.”
As for his own vocation, “I’ve been happy every place I’ve been and the people I’ve worked with were just wonderful – so helpful and cooperative. I’ve been very blessed in my life,” Father Kapfer said.
“I’m one who likes to follow directions, to do whatever was needed and give it my best shot.” Father Kapfer will continue to do just that, “as long as I am able.”