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

Deer Park pastor is recipient of Lilly Foundation Award

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 16, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Al Grasher, pastor of St. Mary’s Presentation Parish in Deer Park, is one of 127 recipients of a National Clergy Renewal Program award from the Lilly Endowment.

Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, since 2000 the Lilly Endowment has awarded 881 national clergy renewal grants, in 48 states across the U.S., to Christian congregations whose pastors have earned a master of divinity degree.

The purpose of the Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program awards is to provide clergy with an opportunity to step aside from their usual busy, stressful lives to engage in some form of spiritual and personal renewal. Father Al Grasher is the only Catholic priest in Washington State, and one of only six priests in the entire country, to receive one of these awards.

“It’s a six-month sabbatical,” Father Grasher said, “starting in July 2007, and going through December. There is going to be a spiritual aspect, an educational aspect, and a fun aspect.”

The spiritual part of Father Grasher’s sabbatical will be a one-week directed retreat at Palisades Retreat Center in Federal Way, Wash. The educational component will be 12 weeks at the Vatican II Institute for Sabbaticals, at St. Patrick Seminary, Menlo Park, Calif. The fun part of Father Grasher’s sabbatical will be two weeks of Italian cooking and language classes in Florence, Italy.

“It’s not only a sabbatical for me,” Father Grasher said. “It’s a requirement that this be a time of renewal for the parish, too. In fact, the award is sent to the parish, not me personally. So the renewal part for the parish, while I’m gone, will be a week-long mission, focusing on evangelization, presented by a Paulist priest and a lay woman. Then, after I return, the parish will have a program called Disciples in Mission. Both will be presented by the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association.”

The process of applying for the Lilly Endowment award began with several meetings in December 2005 between Father Grasher and the parish’s pastoral council. “Then in the spring of this year, a person from the council presented the idea to the whole parish,” Father Grasher said, “and we had a parish survey so that everyone could indicate any questions or concerns they might have. The basic question was, ‘Should we do this?’ and a good number of those were positive.”

Part of the award will be used to pay for a priest to fill in for Father Grasher while he is on sabbatical. “We don’t know who that will be, yet,” he said, “but it could be either a priest from the diocese or someone from outside the diocese.

“Both the parish and I are very excited about receiving this grant,” he said. “We see it as an opportunity for growth and renewal for me, but also an opportunity for the parish to be renewed and to grow in faith, particularly as we focus on the two topics of evangelization and discipleship.”

Father Grasher was ordained a priest of the Spokane Diocese in 1986. He has served in several ministries, including Diocesan Vocation Director, associate pastor of St. Mary and St. Francis Xavier parishes in Spokane, and pastor of the parishes in Valley, Springdale, and Chewelah.

He has been pastor of St. Mary’s Presentation, Deer Park, since July 1, 2002.

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