Servite Fr. Don Siple says the ministry of The Grotto is to remind people that God is faithful and wants to be close to us. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Servite Fr. Don Siple says the ministry of The Grotto is to remind people that God is faithful and wants to be close to us. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Servite Father Don Siple throws back his head and his laughter echoes off The Grotto’s soaring stone cliffs.

A lead friar at Northeast Portland’s Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, he knows that quiet is the modus operandi, but sometimes he can’t hold back.

“I have the most exciting job in the world,” he says, sitting in front of the famous cave with an image of Mary and Jesus. “I get to talk about hope and his name is Jesus Christ.”

Father Siple has been rector at The Grotto’s 62 acres since 2017. The sanctuary welcomes 300,000 people each year, many seeking a closer relationship with God. The friars are there to help.

“I often tell young people, ‘You want an exciting job? Join us,’” Father Siple says.

One foundation of Servite spirituality is a sad scene: Mary at the foot of the cross. “We pray to be vigilant to the modern-day crosses where Christ is still suffering with those who are sick and marginalized,” Father Siple says. But that does not dampen his Christian joy.



He grew up on Chicago’s South Side, the eldest of five. His hardworking father loaded barges on Chicago waterways and his mother was a secretary, housewife and prayer champion. “Her rosary was everywhere,” he said. “I know for a fact that Our Lady was not just some image for my mother. I know when my mother talked to Our Lady it was two mothers, two friends, talking to each other.”

Young Don caught that devotion. Grateful for his parents’ love, care and faith, he started talking about being a priest from early childhood.

He attended a large boys Catholic high school where four Servite friars taught.

“There was a sense of joyful community and they always seemed to be happy and joyful in their ministry,” Father Siple recalls. “That inspired me.” Their devotion to Mary topped it off.

Servite friars established The Grotto 95 years ago on what was then Portland’s outskirts.

“From the start, it really was to be a place of encounter with God,” Father Siple says. “We are that little place of peace and hope in the business of life. We all need those places to go, just to recharge, just to say to the Lord, ‘I need five minutes of your time.’ And he’s here.”

Father Siple says the key to successful ministry is faithfulness in prayer. One of his favorite and most important works is beseeching God for the good of other people, he says.

“The ministry we do here is to help people realize — no matter where you are at in life, no matter where you are at in faith — God is faithful and God does not look at the sin, he looks at the person first. God always does something with us.”