Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Valley pastor also serves Church as military chaplain
by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff
(From the Sept. 9, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Father Ty Schaff, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Spokane Valley, also serves as a chaplain. (IR file photo courtesy of the Air National Guard)
While many diocesan priests spend the summer months doing much the same sort of work they do in the winter, one diocesan priest had a very different experience. Father Ty Schaff, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Spokane Valley, was called to active duty as a military chaplain. He spent 33 days in the grueling Middle Eastern heat ministering to the military personnel in Qatar.
“As a priest, the most important thing is making the Church present to the people,” said Father Schaff. “We have a duty to proclaim the Gospel and assist people in need.”
Father Schaff joined the Air National Guard reserves with the permission of the bishop in 1987 as a response to a request that came through the Spokane Diocese. There was a shortage of military chaplains and, despite his background in Pax Christi and the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War, Father Schaff felt a calling to help fill that need.
“I listened to one military chaplain talk about how worthwhile it was to be present to our young Catholic troops, and I was moved,” he said.
Since he signed up, Father Schaff has found himself in the Middle East four times, Germany three times, Italy twice, and has spent substantial time in Japan and England. No matter where he goes, though, he encounters profound need.
Father Schaff spends most of his active duty time on bases and out of the action where the situations can be very dangerous. But, as he pointed out, “people in the bases still need the attention and witness of the Gospel.”
Father Schaff said that the experience of a military chaplain is distinctly different from that of a parish priest. While a parish priest is responsible for the administrative functions of the parish, as well as serving his parishioners, Father Schaff said that military chaplaincy is different.
“It’s all people, all the time,” he said. He also said that working long hours with people is often a nice change of pace from the administrative duties associated with parish priesthood.
On the base, Father Schaff does everything from celebrating Mass and Reconciliation with the Catholic troops, to counseling and, sometimes, simply listening. Once, he even stood in for a wedding when the other priest was suddenly called away.
Father Schaff gives the troops, both Catholic and Protestant, the opportunity to come and sit with him, visit, share their stories, and talk about their problems. Many days, he will be in his office for 14 hours or more, simply listening and providing support for military personnel who are far from home. While some people come to him seeking the sacraments or to renew lost faith, others come for advice on everything from death, to workplace disputes, to marital disputes – “deployment is very hard on marriages,” said Father Schaff.
“Regrettably, there are tragedies that have occurred in people’s lives,” he said. Part of his job is to help the young men and women face the challenges in their lives and overcome them.
Though he spends a lot of time delving into people’s personal tragedies, Father Schaff has also witnessed tremendous good. He described several extraordinary efforts by young individuals, including one man’s actions to get school supplies to Iraqi children.
“I have had the opportunity to meet an incredible group of young people that are committed and being asked to be old beyond their years,” said Father Schaff. “They’re dependable, reliable, hard working and conscientious. They really do an awful lot of good. There’re an awful lot of really good kids out there.”