Fr. Pat McNamee, 1970
Fr. Pat McNamee, 1970
 In 1969, a transitional deacon named Patrick McNamee began preparing a couple for marriage when the prospective groom was arrested.

The pastor thought the marriage was doomed and advised his young charge to stop it. But the deacon saw something in the man and continued. The couple wed and have remained together for 51 years. They will attend Father McNamee’s priesthood jubilee celebration.

“You come to learn that people are the reason you are ordained,” said Father McNamee, who now lives in the St. John Vianney priest retirement community in Beaverton. “The first day in a parish, people are going to come to you with a question that wasn’t in the books at seminary. You need to make a decision.”

Father McNamee’s vocation was fostered by a strong Irish Catholic family culture. Priests and nuns regularly visited the McNamee home, near All Saints Parish in Northeast Portland. The family walked five blocks to All Saints and would meet other Catholics en route.

“It was a community,” said Father McNamee. “That Catholic identity and that Catholic support grabbed me by the heart.”

When young Patrick’s friends visited, he would urge them to his room where he would preside at a play Mass, solemnly distributing Necco wafers. Sometimes his grandfather would join in, gamely giving the responses in Latin.

At All Saints, Msgr. Thomas Tobin created an environment in which all boys were involved in liturgy. The monsignor gave leading altar servers red sashes brought back from Rome, which offered the lads a thrilling link to the universal church.

Patrick went to Mount Angel Seminary High School and then Central Catholic, returning to Mount Angel for college. It was then on to St. Thomas Seminary near Seattle for graduate study. The theology coming out of the Second Vatican council excited him with its powerful engagement of the world. The ideas were so fresh that seminarians studied from mimeographs, not books.

On home visits during Christmas, Msgr. Tobin would host the dozen or more All Saints seminarians for a dinner — served late in the Italian style.

“A vocation does not really drop out of heaven,” Father McNamee said. “It takes people to affirm or give you direction or advice.”

He has served at All Saints, St. Joseph the Worker, St. Rose and The Madeleine in Portland, as well as at St. Mary in Corvallis, St. Helen in Junction City, St. Vincent de Paul in Salem and St. Cecilia in Beaverton.

A priest must respond when called to duty in places like hospitals and rest homes, he said. At the same time, one of the great life lessons he has learned is to trust other people and delegate, especially when running a parish. “You need to know how to get help,” he said. “You are no good if you work all the time.”

Father McNamee was one of the trusted pastors to whom the archdiocese would send seminarians for formation. “I wanted them to know that I was continually learning,” he said.

At the same time, he was delighted when laypeople stepped forward to take charge of something. He is a big believer in the universal priesthood of all the baptized.

“I am not through,” said the priest, who says Mass at Maryville retirement home and any parishes that need help. “I wish I could live another 100 years and keep serving.”