Fr. Neil Moore
Fr. Neil Moore
“Tenderness,” said Father Neil Moore. “That’s the word I wanted when we talked about what God’s mercy is.”

The 89-year-old priest had called back after an interview the day prior. He sought to describe with more accuracy his sense of God’s abundant mercy.

Such heartfelt contemplation of the Lord’s love — and the intricacies of what that means in word and action — has steered much of Father Moore’s 60 years of vocation.

Young Neil grew up in Portland surrounded by a slew of clergy and religious, who roused an early interest in the priesthood. “Mom and dad had nuns and priests in the family, so they were a constant influence,” said Father Moore, who retired in 1999.

After earning a degree in education at the University of Portland and attending Mount Angel Seminary, the lanky young man was ordained in 1960 by Archbishop Edward Howard.

Father Moore said hearing confessions has been among the powerful graces of his long priesthood.

“You receive a great gift of honesty and courage and of people seeking God,” he said. “It’s not perfection we are after, it is God’s love. And God has love for everyone — the poor, the marginalized, the homosexual. You can’t separate some people out from that love.”

Father Moore has attempted to live this understanding in a variety of ways. He oversaw food pantries, promoted a welcoming culture at parishes, was involved in ecumenical work and participated in a ministry for families with gay children.

He’s a priest with a strong sense of social justice and “a deep concern for people,” said Father Jack Mosbrucker, a friend of Father Moore. “He is present to them, and he meets them where they are.”

As a newly minted priest, Father Moore was assigned to St. Mary in Eugene. He went on to minister at St. John in Oregon City, St. Peter in Southeast Portland, and Assumption and Queen of Peace in North Portland. He was pastor of St. Helen in Sweet Home and of Sacred Heart in Newport. He later served at St. Wenceslaus in Scappoose and St. Pius X in Northwest Portland.

He had stints on the archdiocese’s Presbyteral Council and the Priests’ Senate.

His longest stretch at a parish was as founding pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Aloha, where he guided the congregation from 1982 until 1995.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner Judy LeDosquet told the Sentinel in 1991 that when the parish had no church, there were demands to hustle and build one.

“Father Moore said, ‘First we need to build a community, then we’ll build a church,’” recalled LeDosquet.

Pre-coronavirus Father Moore was celebrating regular Masses at Maryville, a skilled care facility in Beaverton, making home visits and hearing confessions. He also celebrated Mass at Spirit of Grace in Beaverton, a joint Catholic-Lutheran congregation.

The pandemic has put those ministries on hold, and he’s had additional time to reflect on the spiritual life. He’s recently been thinking about an encounter early in his ministry.

“A priest gave this advice: ‘If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, just keep talking and the answer might come to you,’” Father Moore recalled. “Over the years, I’ve realized that’s not very helpful advice.” The priest laughed.

“It’s better to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Especially as I get closer to the end, I realize that God speaks to us often more through questions than answers. Questions give us space to allow for the mystery of God, while answers sometimes reduce things. God is bigger than we can imagine.”

katies@catholicsentinel.org