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
Rest in peace: Msgr. William Van Ommeren
by Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register
(From the March 21, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)
Msgr. William Van Ommeren (IR file photo)
Msgr. William Van Ommeren, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, died Feb. 28 after a long illness. He was 86 years old.
The vigil was held Tuesday, March 5, at 7 p.m. in the chapel of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, Spokane. Bishop Blase Cupich celebrated the funeral Mass at noon on Wednesday, March 6, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes. Interment followed at Holy Cross Cemetery.
Said Bishop Cupich: “Many have rightly commented on Msgr. Van Ommeren’s many contributions over a lifetime to all areas of Church life: as a leader in diocesan and parish ministry, as one skilled in Church’s intellectual and pastoral tradition, as a community and civic advisor. I knew him only in the later years of his life, when he lived at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center and made himself available for spiritual direction to lay men and women, Religious and priests. His generous readiness to serve others in this setting was a fitting way to bring to completion the good work began in him on the day of his ordination.”
“Msgr. William Van Ommeren’s death gives all of us the opportunity to reflect on the legacy of this great servant of the Church and more specifically of the Diocese of Spokane,” said Bishop William Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus of the Spokane Diocese. “He was my second ‘boss’ when I was assigned as a young priest to Bishop White Seminary and he was the rector there.
“Over the years as chancellor for the diocese he worked hand in hand with Bishop Bernard Topel during and after the Second Vatican Council, an experience that enriched them both,” said Bishop Skylstad. “He was a beloved pastor; and in the later years as resident priest at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, his wisdom and skill in spiritual direction are well known. He loved his priesthood and the Church. In these later years, he kept up with all the developments in the Church in reading journalist John Allen’s columns. He was a special friend to the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, during their time of transition, and they to him in the last months of his illness.
“His outlook for the Church was always one of concern, compassion, and hope,” said Bishop Skylstad. “May God grant eternal peace and rest to this faithful disciple of Jesus. We shall miss him.”
Msgr. Van Ommeren was born in Tilburg, Holland, where he began his seminary studies. Priestly formation was completed at St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, Wash., near Seattle. He was ordained to the priesthood April 30, 1952.
He served as an assistant pastor at St. Augustine and St. Ann parishes in Spokane, and Holy Family Parish, Clarkston, before being appointed Spiritual Director and Diocesan Supervisor of Marycliff High School, Spokane, in 1956.
Four years later he was named Chancellor of the Spokane Diocese and Superior at Bishop White Seminary in Spokane. In 1963 he became rector of both Bishop White and Mater Cleri High School Seminary in Colbert.
Besides diocesan administration, he was pastor of several parishes as well, including St. Joseph in Trentwood; Our Lady of Fatima, Spokane; St. Anne, Medical Lake; St. Rose of Lima, Cheney; St. Joseph, Rockford; ministry as a member of the pastoral team of St. Joseph in Spokane; and served as rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, Spokane.
He also continued to play key roles in diocesan administration: in 1972 he was appointed Vicar General for Administrative Affairs for the diocese, Director of Priest Personnel, and Officialis of the diocese’s Marriage Tribunal.
He was awarded a doctorate in canon law in 1960, and was elevated to monsignor in 1967.
He spent part of his summers during his years at St. Edward Seminary doing welfare work for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
His last years of priesthood were spent in spiritual direction and prayer at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in Spokane.
In a 2005 interview, Msgr. Van Ommeren recalled that as a boy, “I had wanted to be a missionary, but I wound up here as a pseudo-missionary, I guess. They needed priests here, and I came as a student because I wanted to see the world….”
His life as a priest, he said, has “always been the same: It’s people.” In his semi-retired life at the retreat center, “I think here I have more of a chance to get to know people, deeper and more closely than you can do in a big parish. I like the smaller parishes better because I got to know people better and they got to know me better, not just from a distance. The goodness of people, and the struggles that people have, to struggle with them a little and to just be with them.... Good things happen.”
“I believe,” he said, “the world is a better world today than it ever was before, I really do.”
Msgr. Van Ommeren is survived by his sister, Elly Pepper (Douglas Fowles), England; brothers Henk (Elly), Ruud (Marcia), and Paul (Thea), all of The Netherlands; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Herman and Henrica, and brothers John and Herman.
Memorial gifts in his honor may be made to Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, 6910 S. Ben Burr Rd., Spokane, WA 99223.
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