Adorers of the Holy Cross sisters pray during the Oct. 22 memorial Mass for Cardinal William Levada, who led the Archdiocese of Portland from 1986 to 1995. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Adorers of the Holy Cross sisters pray during the Oct. 22 memorial Mass for Cardinal William Levada, who led the Archdiocese of Portland from 1986 to 1995. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)

Ashby Collinson had never met Cardinal William Levada, who died Sept. 26 in Rome. But the recent Catholic convert was eager to attend the memorial Mass for the former leader of the Portland Archdiocese.

Chatting with friends after the Oct. 22 liturgy at St. Mary Cathedral in Northwest Portland, she described how moved she was by both the cardinal’s life and the Mass itself, which was celebrated by Archbishop Alexander Sample with several bishops and more than a dozen priests concelebrating.

“The love he had for the Eucharist was inspiring,” said Collinson, a member of nearby St. Patrick Parish. “And I’m in awe of the reverence in the Catholic Church and taken aback by such a beautiful memorial. There were so many spiritual leaders present, so many men who are gentle and humble.”

This enthusiastic reaction of a convert likely would have delighted the man who spent the bulk of his 83 years serving the church and sharing the power of the Lord’s body and blood.

“It’s the Eucharist that makes us the church, and without priests there is no Eucharist,” said Archbishop John Vlazny, a concelebrant and the homilist at the memorial. “That awesome responsibility of celebrating Mass was one that he joyfully and faithful accepted every day possible for 57 years, nine months and six days. No small gift from the Lord, through him, to God’s people.”

Archbishop Vlazny, former shepherd of the Portland Archdiocese, was an ordination classmate of Cardinal Levada, who led the archdiocese from 1986 to 1995.

Archbishop Levada went on to serve as archbishop of San Francisco and prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Don Clark, director of campus ministry at Jesuit High School in Southwest Portland, hurried over to the cathedral after school to attend the memorial. Clark helped the archbishop elevate St. Cyril in Wilsonville from a mission to a parish.

Clark noted that some felt the cardinal was stern or aloof. But Clark remembers him as generous and having a great sense of dry humor.

He also pointed to the archbishop’s creativity “when it came to using the church to come up with pastoral solutions.”

A few pews up from Clark sat Dennis Keenan, hired by Archbishop Levada as executive director of Oregon Catholic Charities. Keenan helped carry out a number of the archbishop’s pastoral initiatives.

“I have such a high regard for him,” said Keenan, who led the nonprofit for more than two decades.

Under the archbishop’s leadership, the social service arm of the local church created, among other programs, legal support services for immigrants and a ministry for people with AIDS.

“We’d travel down I-5 together, visiting vicariates to promote and gain support for the work of Catholic Charities,” Keenan said, smiling as he recalled the road trips.

The archbishop “was very bright,” said Keenan. He remembers being impressed with his speed reading skills and ability to retain details.

He said Archbishop Levada also was an expert administrator who never missed a Catholic Charities board meeting.

Fellow Massgoer John Limb, retired publisher of the Oregon Catholic Press, described the archbishop’s similar commitment to his position on the OCP board.

Even when he moved to Rome, “he’d still make it back to the board meetings,” said Limb, adding that his administrative abilities were matched by his pastoral concern for people.

Speaking in the cathedral that was renovated during Archbishop Levada’s tenure, Archbishop Vlazny said his longtime friend had notable humility, though he did enjoy wearing the red zucchetto of a cardinal.

“Those of us who were his friends and classmates would tease him about it,” laughed the retired archbishop. “But you know what, we secretly admired the way he handled the sometimes frantic adulation that goes along with those titles while still maintaining his role as our good old friend, Bill.”

The memorial Mass was held on the feast of St. John Paul II, and that was fitting, said Archbishop Vlazny.

St. John Paul wrote that “the greatest riches at a bishop’s disposal are the sacraments, which he administers with the help of his priests,” he said. “Cardinal Levada really and truly believed — and faithfully taught — that whoever eats this bread will live forever.”