Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
‘Do you have any plans to travel?’
by Father Mark Pautler, for the Inland Register
(From the August 15, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
“Do you have any plans to travel?” is a question frequently posed now that I am “retired.” A word of explanation is in order.
I am still working at the Pastoral Center as Chancellor and Judicial Vicar, and I assist at parishes on most weekends. Right now, it looks like a 23-mile drive to Rockford will be the extent of my travels most of the time. But I will make plans for more distant destinations. And there have been a couple of opportunities for travel to destinations not so distant.
For instance, on June 27 I accompanied Bishop Skylstad to the town of Republic in the far north of the diocese. The occasion was the blessing of the newly constructed rectory dedicated to the memory of Immaculate Conception’s long-time pastor, George Morbeck. Later in this article I’ll return to a few thoughts about Father Morbeck.
The dedication was also Bishop Daly’s first opportunity to visit Republic. Bishop Skylstad noted that this probably was the only instance when two bishops had visited Republic at the same time! As a pastor with a full weekend schedule, I would never break away on a Saturday for such a trip, but retirement made this possible.
The “rural church” is the most common embodiment of church in our diocese. I have not had immediate experience of this ecclesial environment in my pastoral assignments, but I have always been in touch with rural ministry. One way this was accomplished were “regional meetings” of chancery leadership with local personnel during Bishop Skylstad’s time as bishop. We visited Republic at least once during those years.
The rectory dedication at Republic was a regional rather than a parochial event. The present configuration of pastoral ministry in this portion of our diocese includes Colville, Kettle Falls, Northport, Republic, and Curlew. Fathers Tyler Smedley and Richard Semple provide pastoral leadership and ensure that the sacraments are consistently celebrated. I met parishioners from each of these communities at the dedication. That spoke a clear message about how the church in this area is developing a sense of solidarity and feels less confined by parochial boundaries. While each community wants its own identity and individuality, it is neither possible nor desirable for each to be autonomous. Collaboration, sharing resources, interdependence, forming communities with permeable boundaries: this is how church and community will survive. “A new rectory for Republic? Really?” That question was in my mind when I heard about this project. But upon further review, this project is a symbol of vitality. We can even call it a sacramental: something that manifests faith and fosters faith.
Another occasion to visit a rural parish was a drive to St. Patrick Parish in Colfax. The occasion for this trip was a meeting of my Jesus Caritas group. “A meeting of what?” you might ask. Our priests and parish secretaries are certainly familiar with Jesus (pronounced “yay-soos” in this context) Caritas, but this may be unfamiliar to many readers. Jesus Caritas is a worldwide movement to foster priestly spirituality and fraternity that was introduced to our diocese circa 1978. Small groups of priests, called “fraternities,” self-select their membership of five to eight priests. Although there is a how-to-do-it-manual and a national organization, each fraternity develops a particular style. For all fraternities, the cornerstone is the monthly “day of review” when the fraternity gathers for prayer, rest, refreshments, and especially the “review of life.” Several fraternities, mine included, regularly meet at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, but occasionally we break away to one or another parish. Last month,
Father Al Grasher, a priest in my fraternity, was transferred from Deer Park to Colfax. He hosted our day of review. This became the opportunity for all of us to become acquainted with another parish and a community. Sometimes the best way to share in the review of life is to see where the priest lives his life.
I said I would say a little more about Father George Morbeck, who will forever be linked to Immaculate Conception Parish in Republic and the church of that area. Father Morbeck (died in 2011), along with Msgr. William van Ommeren (died 2013) and Father Charles Skok (not dead yet!) were all ordained in 1952. I consider Van and Charlie as mentors in my priestly ministry. These two outstanding priests are better known in the diocese. Both held positions in the seminary and the Chancery, as if that really matters.
Father Morbeck provided a different kind of priestly example and ministerial excellence. I wish to recognize and honor him
simply by quoting what was said of his ministry in Children of the Sun, the history of our diocese published two years ago:
“Father George Howard ‘Howie’ Morbeck came to Republic and Curlew April 23, 1988, celebrated births, baptisms, first Communions, confirmations, marriages, funerals and everything in between with the parishioners in Republic and Curlew until his death on Nov. 3, 2011. Father Morbeck was always there for his church family and community, being in Republic for 23 years, making time for people and their needs, always setting his needs second. Father Steve Werner [and later on, Fathers Barnett and Smedley and their parochial vicars] replaced this saintly priest” (p. 137).
“Replaced” is probably not the appropriate term. There may not be the exact word for Howie’s priesthood. We may never see his like again.
(Father Pautler is Judicial Vicar and Chancellor of the Spokane Diocese.)
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