Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Jesuit brings wealth of experience to new role as pastor of St. Aloysius
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Oct. 23, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
Jesuit Father Dick Case is the new pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, Spokane. (IR photo)
Jesuit Father Dick Case moved into his office at St. Aloysius Parish, Spokane, on Aug. 18. Because of personnel shortages in the Jesuits’ Oregon Province, in recent years other Jesuit priests have served the parish on a part-time basis. Father Case’s arrival returns a priest to the role of pastor on a fulltime basis.
Father Case grew up in Seattle, where he attended St. Joseph Grade School, before moving on to the Jesuits’ Seattle Prep, where he graduated in 1960. He attended the University of Washington for one quarter but didn’t like the big school environment, so he transferred to Seattle University, back to the Jesuits, which he describes as being “like coming home.” In his spare time the future Jesuit priest earned his pilot’s and flight instructor’s licenses. On the side, for two and-a-half years he gave flying lessons.
In the spring of 1963 young Case attended a retreat which, he said, he was not enthusiastic about attending. He went, however, and “The call came, and I decided to be a Jesuit.”
Entering the Society of Jesus in September of 1963, he spent three years at the Jesuit novitiate, then in Sheridan, Ore. One year was invested in finishing his college degree, followed by two years as a Jesuit novice. In June of 1966 he moved to St. Louis University, in St. Louis, Mo., for philosophy studies. He also earned a master’s degree in economics. Then it was back west to Spokane, where he lived at Bea House on the Gonzaga University campus while he earned a teacher’s certificate. In September, 1969, he was assigned to teach at Gonzaga Prep.
“I taught Contemporary World Problems and Geometry,” he said, “and my third and last year I taught World Affairs. Also, I coached football and pole vaulting. I had played football in high school, but I had no idea about pole vaulting. I watched a movie about how it was supposed to be done.”
In June, 1972 Case journeyed to Amsterdam, the Netherlands – “I wanted to go to Europe,” he explained, “and I wanted to learn another language.” There he did graduate studies in theology after first taking classes in Dutch.
“The classes were all in Dutch,” Father Case said, “and in the (Jesuit) community we spoke Dutch. I was never a great Dutch speaker, but I got to be fairly fluent. During the three years I was there I also helped out in an English-speaking parish. I was a deacon during the third year, so I was doing baptisms and weddings and having a great time.”
After completing his studies in Amsterdam, Deacon Case returned to Seattle. He was ordained a priest in 1975 by the new archbishop of Seattle, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. He then returned for another year at Gonzaga Prep, in Spokane, which turned out to be the first year the school was co-ed. “It was a pastoral year,” Father Case said. “I helped with campus ministry and taught religion. It was tacked on as another year of theology during which I would get pastoral experience.”
In June of 1976, the young priest was sent to Alaska for the first time, an assignment that lasted 11 years. “During the first year I studied Yupik at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks,” he said. “Then I was assigned to Chevak and Newtok, two villages out on the Bering coast. I worked mostly with the Yupik-speaking Eskimos, and they speak two different dialects of Yupik, so I had to learn different words for each village. I did mostly parish work, flying from one place to another. The plane I flew was owned by the Diocese of Fairbanks. Each parish has an airstrip.”
The 400 or so people in Chevak had been Catholic going back to the early decades of the 20th century. “Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” he said, “the Jesuit priest would leave St. Mary, at the mouth of the Yukon (River), and go by dog team down the coast to all these little villages and baptize people, and they actually kept pretty good records because we had good records of the baptisms (from) back then.”
In 1979, Father Case returned to Spokane for another six months, during which he completed his final phase of Jesuit formation, called tertianship. He and other Jesuits studied the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus and made a 30-day retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. “Then,” Father Case said, “I went on ‘experiment’ doing pastoral work in a mental hospital in Salem, Ore. for two and-a-half months.”
After returning to Alaska, Father Case was assigned to Tununak, Toksook Bay, and Night Mute, three villages that were not far apart. Initially, he flew from one village to another, but the winds were so strong and constant that he decided that a snowmobile would be more practical. “I was the only one in the villages who could walk up to the airplane and go wherever I wanted,” he said. “The rest of the people had to wait for a commercial flight, and I thought, ‘This isn’t good. I’m too detached from the people.’
“So I delivered the plane back to the bishop, and then I began to use the snowmobile. Then I found out I was no longer in charge. The (Native) men knew so much about the weather and the territory that I would have to go ask them if it was safe to travel, and I’d have to ask them to lead me to places. So I became much more dependent and much more understanding of what they knew and what was going on in their lives. I think it helped me pastorally. I was there for five years, and I loved it.”
Next, Father Case was sent to Bethel, where he lived for a year and directed a lay ministry training program before moving to St. Mary to direct a similar program. He became administrator of a Jesuit boarding high school there, but after one year it was evident that the school needed to close. “It just wasn’t practical to keep it open,” Father Case said. “So we closed that school, and I left town.”
In 1987 he moved to Bellarmine Prep, Tacoma, as rector of the Jesuit community there, but after one year moved back to Spokane as the new president of Gonzaga Prep, where he served six years. During the last year, with the board’s approval he inaugurated Gonzaga Prep’s fair share tuition program, which still exists today.
Father Case then took a one-year sabbatical, during which he remained in Spokane, except for attending a Jesuit institute in Rome. He also made a pilgrimage to and a retreat in the Holy Land. That autumn, he took a Greyhound bus every other weekend to Missoula, Mont., to preside at all the Masses at St. Francis Xavier Parish. Upon his return from Rome and the Holy Land, Father Case moved to the parish in Missoula, where he stayed until August. In September, 1996, he returned to St. Mary, Alaska where he took over the diocese’s deacon formation program.
“There was a translation of the New Testament into Yupik that we could use,” Father Case said. “Also, the Sioux spirituality center outside of Rapid City, South Dakota, had developed a three-volume set of books for use in training their deacons, and I got that. At first, I would give it to the (prospective) deacons to read. Well, they wouldn’t read it, and finally I realized that we needed to get simpler. So I would meet with them, and we would read these books from South Dakota together, paragraph by paragraph, and I would comment and expand on what we were reading. That seemed to work. At the end of the program they were qualified to do what they were asked to do, which was to lead the community in Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest. That was their main thing. And they were qualified to preach in their own language. They could speak to their own people in their own language. After three or four years they would be ordained, and it has worked out quite well.”
After four years, in August, 2000, Bishop Michael Kaniecki died suddenly, and Father Case was elected the administrator of the Diocese of Fairbanks. He served in this capacity until a new bishop was named, Bishop Donald Kettler. “I was flying around doing Confirmations for a couple of years,” Father Case said. “Then I went out to Galena, 250 miles west of Fairbanks, on the Yukon, to be a pastor from Christmas of 2004 until July of 2008. Then I came back to Spokane.”
Father Case had some adapting to do, however. “In Alaska I got used to doing everything for myself,” he said. “Here it seems like everything is done for me. That’s a little hard to adjust to. But the parish community is wonderful, good people, a good spirit, a good life, so I’m thrilled to be a part of all this.”