Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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Father Pitstick to lead ‘virtual retreat’ for Immaculate Heart
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the Sept. 11, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in Spokane features a “Virtual Retreat” on its internet website – http://www.ihrc.net. The virtual retreat feature gives brief reflections on the daily Mass readings.
The site has grown in popularity over the years. At present it’s sent, free of charge, to close to 4,000 subscribers. Countless other web surfers also encounter the feature from time to time without actually subscribing to it.
For the past three years the column has been written by Msgr. William Van Ommeren, the retreat center’s spiritual director. He realized the column “was beginning to be a bit of a burden,” and decided it was time to quit. He wrote his farewell column Aug. 14. Father Rory Pitstick, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Okanogan, has replaced the monsignor.
The Poor Clare Sisters in Spokane began the daily retreat over four years ago, using material from Speak, Lord, Your Servant Is Listening, a book written by Msgr. David Rosage, the retreat center’s founder. Sister Patricia Proctor of the Spokane Poor Clare monastery developed the website for the center. She used the daily reflection as a way to “build up interest in the retreat center,” she said.
Later, IHRC’s site was linked with the website for the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (www.usccb.org), which also has reflections on the daily Mass readings. In time, the Sisters asked IHRC to take over the retreat feature. That’s when Msgr Van Ommeren entered the picture.
Msgr. Van Ommeren has been a priest in the Spokane Diocese for over 50 years, serving, variously, as pastor, chancellor and vicar general. He has been at the retreat center for almost 14 years.
He figures he has written “over 1,000 columns,” which he called “a gift to me.” He thanked everyone for being “his parishioners during the past three years.”
Father Pitstick was ordained in 1994 and has been at Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Okanogan-Omak since 1998. He has an STD behind his name, which means he has a doctorate in Sacred Theology. That makes him a good fit as retreat master, giving him a chance to use his extensive Scripture knowledge.
Further, Father Pitstick said he had been looking for some way to be involved in a writing ministry. He has led Days of Prayer at IHRC and told director Deacon John Ruscheinsky if there were other ways he could help, he was willing.
“I think it was propitious that I started on the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe (Aug. 14),” Father Pitstick said. “He was very involved in using modern means to spread the Gospel in his time.” He said St. Maximilian was also very devoted to Mary.
Msgr. Van Ommeren was happy about his replacement. He had been Father Pitstick’s spiritual director before Father Pitstick’s ordination.
For his part, Father Pitstick said he felt “humbled” to be following the monsignor’s path. “I always looked up to him when I was in the seminary and benefitted greatly from his spiritual wisdom.”
A difference between the two priests is their knowledge of computers. Msgr. Van Ommeren said he knows “absolutely nothing” about them. He would write the retreat columns in longhand and the retreat center staff would type them and post them to the website. Father Pitstick is more familiar with computer technology.
Feedback from readers about the column during the past three years was good, “very encouraging,” Msgr. Van Ommeren said. What’s more, it often came “from surprising places.” A Spokane woman was with her family in a primitive part of China and had no easy access to any kind of Christian church. She found the retreat center’s website and e-mailed how happy she was to have this “daily touch” from home. “We also received feedback from India and other places around the world,” the monsignor said.
The retreat not only promoted the center, it was also a good way to make use of that electronic tool called the Internet. Visiting the retreat website gives spiritual nourishment to people who are unable to get to daily Mass, to shut-ins, and to those looking for a short spiritual break during the course of a busy day. No matter what the circumstances or where people live, if they have a computer and internet access, they can read the Virtual Retreat, or request that the service be delivered to their e-mail inbox each day.