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
Brother Tony Cannon retires; nearly 50 years ministering at Morning Star
by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff
(From the Oct. 21, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Brother Tony Cannon of the Christian Brothers (center) was a constant presence in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch community, as a volunteer and professional, for nearly 50 years. He retired at the end of last summer. (IR photo from Morning Star Boys’ Ranch)
Christian Brother Tony Cannon has long been a presence at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. After nearly 50 years of ministry with the boys at the Ranch, as both a volunteer and a paid staff member, Brother Tony retired at the end of August. But his legacy lives on.
The boys and staff at Morning Star have wonderful memories of Brother Cannon. They remember Bible studies, prayer sessions, canoeing and rafting trips, pilgrimages to visit Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte, Mont., and countless hours of his selfless service to the maintenance and care of the gardens and buildings on the ranch.
“I’d like to put the initials ‘MP’ after his name,” said Father Joe Weitensteiner, the director of the ranch. “That would stand for Multi Purpose. Here at the Boys’ Ranch he did many, many things.”
Brother Tony’s long legacy of service to Morning Star began nearly 50 years ago, when he was a senior at Gonzaga Prep. He responded to a newspaper advertisement requesting volunteers to help Father Weitensteiner, who was managing the ranch and his first four boys largely on his own. Tony Cannon and another volunteer came out on the weekends to do whatever Father Weitensteiner needed.
While volunteering, Cannon developed a strong relationship with Father Weitensteiner, and under the priest’s tutelage discerned a vocation to Religious life. Three months after beginning to volunteer at the ranch, Cannon graduated from Gonzaga Prep and left for a training center with the Christian Brothers in New York State.
Despite the often great distances between himself and Morning Star, Brother Tony remained committed to Father Weitensteiner and the success of the ranch. For over 20 years, wherever Brother Tony was stationed, he would take part of his vacation to come back to the Boys’ Ranch and volunteer.
In 1991, nearly 35 years after he began volunteering in 1957, Brother Tony returned to the ranch permanently. His parents lived in Spokane and were very ill, so the Christian Brothers Congregation leaders granted him permission to come back to Spokane and find his own ministry while he cared for his parents. Father Weitensteiner hired him as the Youth Minister and Director of Spiritual Life at the Ranch.
For the next 13 years, Brother Tony threw himself into his work, developing a Spiritual Life program with many facets that he hoped would provide a more holistic approach to the Morning Star program. The program now includes faith-sharing, shared prayer, healing services, non-denominational Sunday worship services called Gift Club, religious education and spiritual guidance.
But Brother Tony did not stop there. He wanted the boys to learn responsibility and develop a stronger sense of ownership of their lives and their healing. He helped the boys to develop a recycling program. Later, under his tutelage, they started their own raspberry business, growing, cultivating, harvesting and selling their raspberries to local businesses.
Brother Tony was always committed to spreading the Gospel and the love of Christ around the Ranch. By the time they arrive at Morning Star, most of the boys have already experienced first-hand the meaning of empty promises and the imperfect love of some human beings. Brother Tony wanted them to experience the perfect love of Christ.
“There’s a hunger in the human heart to know and be loved by God,” said Brother Tony. “These boys are just starved to know that love that many of them have never had.”
Everything Brother Tony did was meant to demonstrate that to the boys. From shared prayer, retreats, and Sunday services to changing light bulbs, painting and weeding, Brother Tony always tried to be an example of Christ’s love to the boys.
“No job was too awesome or too humble for me,” he said as he recounted the many eclectic tasks he performed at the ranch.
According to Father Weitensteiner, Brother Tony’s touch was often just what was needed.
“Kids would just open up in his presence,” said Father Weiten-steiner. “He definitely spent more time interfacing with the groups of boys than anybody else.”
Brother Tony left in late August to begin his life of retirement in a Christian Brothers community in Salinas, Calif., and his presence is already missed at Morning Star.
“We’re missing him bad,” said Father Weitensteiner. The staff at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch is having a difficult time picking up where Brother Tony left off – both with interacting with the boys and keeping up with the numerous maintenance and custodial projects he undertook.
“He just quietly went about doing things,” said Father Weitensteiner.
Eleven-year-old Michael has been at the Boys’ Ranch for a year, and though he only knew Brother Tony for a short time, Michael misses him, too.
“He was nice and everything,” said Michael as he recounted the many activities he did with Brother Tony, including boating, tubing and “going to the cabin.”
One testimony to Brother Tony’s ability to relate to the boys on a spiritual level: Michael said his favorite thing that Brother Tony did was Gift Club, the non-denominational Sunday service.
“I have nothing but admiration for (Brother Tony),” said Father Weitensteiner. “He’s all heart. If he’s up for canonization, he’ll surely get my vote.”