Bishop Steiner was pastor of St. Mary's in Corvallis, and Matthew Prevost, 6, was a special parishioner, dying of a host of chronic problems he'd had since birth. Matthew had a special devotion to Mary, and her statue stood outside his bedroom window.

A few days before he died in early December, red roses bloomed on the bush by the statue.

Bishop Steiner is sure that is just one of many 'Matthew miracles' surrounding the little boy - who was unable to eat, but managed to take Communion.

'Who am I not to believe these many miracles of this special child?' Bishop Steiner wrote later. 'We look for signs, miracles, and we don't always recognize them in the hundred million signs of God's love each day, but we still see them in events we can't quite explain.'

Bishop Steiner, Oregon's golfing bishop, celebrates the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop this month.

Thousands of Catholics in Western Oregon have met Bishop Steiner, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland, at confirmations and other diocesan events. Most Catholics in Western Oregon remember the two times in the 1990s that he took the helm of the Portland Archdiocese in between archbishops. After meeting him, people come away with the sense that they've met a genuinely nice guy, someone who takes time with people and who has a penchant for corny jokes.

He's got a golfing handicap of 9 and once made a hole-in-one at the Corvallis Country Club golf course.

Those who know him best say that Bishop Steiner is what he seems and more. That includes a deep empathy, in particular for the dying, that the tall, sometimes hesitant bishop doesn't advertise.

'Two thoughts come to mind in regard to Bishop Steiner,' says Father Joseph Jacobberger, longtime pastor of St. Mary's Cathedral and an old friend. 'The first is that he's a very compassionate, sensitive person who throughout the years has been there for people in their time of need. The second is that he's someone with whom you can have a good time - be it at the bridge or poker table or on the golf course. He's a good friend.'

Janet Moore, a St. Mary's, Corvallis, parishioner, says that she remembers times when Bishop Steiner went to ill parishioners in the middle of the night. 'I've seen him help dying people to the bathroom,' she says. 'There's no limit as to how far he'll go to give comfort to somebody.'

St. Mary parishioner Susan Morrison says that she frequently reminded Bishop Steiner to find time for himself. 'Without that balance, he couldn't be a whole person to minister to us,' she says.

Friends and parishioners also say that Bishop Steiner is a model of the Second Vatican Council's ideal for priests working alongside lay people.

'He's unassuming,' says longtime friend Gordon Dickey. 'People are disarmed by the fact that he's a regular guy. The second Vatican Council defines a bishop as someone who stands in the midst of his people. Ken does that.'

Indeed, parishioners at St. Mary's in Corvallis, where Bishop Steiner was pastor for many years, say that Bishop Steiner's greatest gift to them was their own parish.

'He did a fantastic job of allowing the people to be Church,' Morrison says. 'He really listened to us. It was a great gift he gave us.'

The number of vocations coming from St. Mary's in Corvallis suggests that gift to the parish was also a gift to the larger Church. In the past decade, two permanent deacons, Francis Potts and Chris Anderson, have been ordained from St. Mary's. Baker Diocese priests Father Rob Irwin and Andy Colvin found their vocations as students at Oregon State University while worshiping at St. Mary's. Fathers Heiko Junge, Bill Holtzinger, Joe Betschart, John Amsberry and John Cihak, priests of the Archdiocese of Portland, also were St. Mary parishioners and celebrated their first Masses at St. Mary's, as were a number of religious order priests and two women who are studying for religious life.

Bishop Steiner listened to one youthful parishioner, Dominic DeMayo, who returned from a World Youth Day and asked why there was no Perpetual Adoration at St. Mary's. Bishop Steiner worked to organize that devotion, and St. Mary's became the first large parish in the archdiocese to have Perpetual Adoration. He has since traveled to help other parishes organize their own adorations, and now Catholics pray before the host in parishes from Medford to Portland.

A boy's vocation

Born Nov. 25, 1936, in David City, Neb., Kenneth Donald Steiner wanted to be a priest from the time he was a little boy. The family moved to Oregon, and the Steiner children attended St. Rose Grade School in Northeast Portland. Bishop Steiner went on to Mount Angel Seminary High School and Mount Angel Seminary College, graduating in 1958.

The bishop names two famous lights, Msgrs. Edmund Murnane and Thomas Tobin, as the men he looked up to and modeled himself after as a seminarian.

Msgr. Murnane founded most of Eugene's parishes and knew everyone. He was a capable administrator and tireless worker known for never forgetting a name.

Bishop Steiner learned years later that Msgr. Murnane had paid for his first year of seminary.

A great intellectual, Msgr. Tobin encouraged lay people to be active years before the second Vatican Council

'Both of them were ahead of their times in ministry,' says Bishop Steiner.

Both monsignors were active during the bishop's seminary years. Bishop Steiner recalls that in those days, he was one of so many seminarians at All Saints, Msgr. Tobin's parish, that there would be arguments over who would serve.

Father Jacobberger came to Mount Angel Seminary College in 1958, four years behind Bishop Steiner. The two became friends as they worked summers at Mount Calvary Cemetery. 'School year at the seminary, summers at the cemetery,' they told one another.

Father Jacobberger especially remembers the time Bishop Steiner told him that Jack Dempsey, the boxer, was buried at Mount Calvary.

Father Jacobberger may have been younger, but he knew for a fact that the heavyweight champion of the world was not buried at Mount Calvary. The two made a bet, and Bishop Steiner led him to the grave - sure enough, Jack Dempsey.

It wasn't the heavyweight champion, but this Dempsey had been a boxer, and Father Jacobberger ruefully paid up.

The two still laugh over that - and Father Jacobberger positively cracks up about the bet that made up for that one.

Scientists knew that Mount St. Helens was about to blow. Bishop Steiner said he could pick the day, and he picked May 18. Father Jacobberger gave him 25 to one odds against that. Then, says Bishop Steiner, Father Jacobberger turned the bet around, taking May 18 himself for those odds. Bishop Steiner took him up on it - and had to write a check for $6.25 on their 25-cent bet when the volcano erupted on May 18.

After graduating from Mount Angel, Bishop Steiner went on to St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, Wash., graduating in 1962.

Bishop Steiner was ordained a priest May 19, 1962, at St. Mary's Cathedral by Portland Archbishop Edward Howard. He served as an associate at St. Francis, Roy; St. Monica, Coos Bay; and St. Mary Cathedral and St. Stephen, Portland. He was able in many ways to be the kind of priest he had wanted to be - serving one to one, the way he had seen priests serve back in Nebraska. That meant, Bishop Steiner says, meeting individually with couples six times during their marriage preparation. It meant counseling people, giving them instructions for conversion, and visiting the sick.

In other ways, the priesthood proved to be different. When he returned to Portland from Coos Bay, he began a marriage preparation program through which 100 people would come on a Sunday night. It took a lot of coordination and a lot of preparation, and it was highly successful. It just wasn't quite what Bishop Steiner had in mind as a young priest wanting to serve individuals.

Serving the people

During that time, Bishop Steiner spoke with Catholic members of a non-Catholic singles group, Servetus, who told him they wished the Church would offer them support. Bishop Steiner agreed to sponsor a Catholic group, called Divorced and Separated Catholics.

Soon the group was meeting every Sunday night with 300 on its mailing list. 'It was a group of people ministering to one another,' says Bishop Steiner. 'For me, it was a lot more rewarding, these folks coming together because of their need, rather than because the Church told them to. The Church became a facilitator, and they taught, counseled and ministered themselves.

'That's been a change in the priesthood for me that has carried over as a bishop. A pastor has to be a facilitator, an enabler, an orchestrator in the Church.'

Bishop Steiner sees this model as bringing in more men to the priesthood, because they've seen their families active in the Church.

That was certainly the case for Bishop Steiner himself. His mother, Florine, was famous throughout Western Oregon churches. She traveled almost everywhere with Bishop Steiner. But during his years as a seminarian and an associate priest, Florine Steiner worked as a housekeeper at various parishes.

She lived with Bishop Steiner for the last decades of her life. 'She thought she was taking care of me, and I thought I was taking care of her,' the bishop now says.

Those people who count Bishop Steiner as a friend also loved Florine, and mourned her death in 2001.

Florine also became a friend to Morrison. 'She never stopped being his mom,' she says.

'She was his housekeeper and cook,' says St. Francis parishioner Drexel. 'That's why he can't so much as boil water. She always did.'

Bishop Steiner was assigned his first pastorate at Holy Name Parish in Coquille with its attendant missions in Myrtle Point and Powers in 1972. When Father Ron Atwood, a new Episcopalian priest came to town, Bishop Steiner gave him a call. The two became friends. Father Atwood recalls that Bishop Steiner used to say that Father Atwood was a gourmet cook and he was a gourmet eater. They shared tips on parish administration and discussed theology.

Accepting the call

The two stayed in touch after Bishop Steiner was assigned to St. Francis in Roy. Bishop Steiner called Father Atwood after hearing him that the Vatican wanted him to be one of two auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Portland. 'I was very much in awe,' Father Atwood says. 'But he was upset, saying that he didn't want this.'

Although the bishop doesn't share that information himself, those who know him say they guessed it. 'I think he said yes to God's will, but he wouldn't have chosen it himself,' says Susan Morrison.

In accepting the responsibility entrusted him, Bishop Steiner quoted St. Augustine, who said, 'For you, I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian. The first is an office accepted, the second a grace received; one a danger, the other, safety.'

The kids at St. Francis School in Roy had their own ideas about what Bishop Steiner should do as a bishop. 'He should have a game of golf with the old bald men and Mitch Vandehey,' wrote Brian Vandehey. 'Bishops should be the policemen of things and clean up things that archbishops mess up,' wrote one anonymous child. Twins Joan and Jean Schmidt were both more restrained. Joan hoped he would come visit when he could, for he'd need a break. 'Because I know you'll have to be making a lot of decisions, and probably very important ones too,' she wrote.

Bishop Steiner was ordained with the late Bishop Paul Waldschmidt, a historic ceremony for the Archdiocese of Portland, on March 2, 1978.

Appointed by Pope Paul VI, by the time he traveled to Rome to meet the pope, Paul VI had died, as had Pope John Paul I, and he met Pope John Paul II.

Bishop Steiner was the third youngest bishop in the United States at that time. Today, Pope John Paul has appointed more than 70 percent of the U.S. bishops - and Bishop Steiner is still one of the younger bishops.

Bishop Steiner traveled to Rome a second time in 1990 when he led a pilgrimage there. It was on that pilgrimage that Morrison says she really got to know the bishop.

'He became part of the group,' she says.

The hoteliers, however, didn't see him as just a part of the group. They always noticed that they had a bishop on board and they showered him with flowers, champagne and other special gifts. In Florence, Bishop Steiner gave one of a bouquets to Morrison's daughter, then in her 20s. 'It was a lovely gesture,' says Morrison.

Most of all, though, the pilgrimage and Bishop Steiner helped her connect her own faith to that of the early Christians. As he said simple Masses for the group in the hotel rooms, and they passed the Bible around, Morrison says she could feel the miracle of ordinary bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ. 'It was very powerful,' she says.

Father John Kerns first met Bishops Steiner and Waldschmidt when he was a seminarian, when they visited the Archdiocesan House of Studies. In the years to come, Father Kerns said he was always impressed by how down-to-earth and personable Bishop Steiner was.

The two became friends when Father Kerns was the bishop's assistant pastor at St. Mary's in Corvallis. He remembers best the dinners with Florine and the bishop best. 'We'd sit around the table and laugh,' says Father Kerns, who adds that it's wasn't always funny.

'A lot of his jokes were really corny,' he says. 'I'd sit there and stare blankly at some of them. Then I'd chuckle at one and he'd say, 'Oh, you liked that one,' and then we'd laugh.'

Father Kerns also says he learned lessons about ministering to the sick and dying during the time he worked with the bishop.

'I think I do better at funerals than at weddings,' conceded the bishop.

Father Kerns says that Bishop Steiner had a special place in his heart for elderly clergy.

Today, he's in contact with many of the retired clergy, who often share with him how isolated they feel.

'No one is as alone as a retired priest can be,' says Bishop Steiner, who is archdiocesan vicar for senior and infirm clergy.

'He's always eager to listen; he doesn't give input unless asked,' says Nancy Duyck, who works with him in the parish office in North Plains. 'Then he'll share a wealth of experience, but without pushing his own opinion. He speaks carefully, without offending.'

Unless, that is, you offended by corny jokes - or golf.

'He's a very pleasant personality and has a wonderful sense of humor,' says John Murphy. 'For Bishop Steiner, first comes God, then his work and golf.'

Bishop Steiner says it a bit differently. 'We're called to love one another,' he says. 'By loving one another, we love God, and through touching each other's lives, God touches our lives. I consider that my life's work.'