Fr. Dan Parrish
Fr. Dan Parrish
SALEM — When it comes to producing religious vocations, St. Joseph Parish here has been doing something right.

In the early 1960s and again in the last decade, a relatively high number of young men and women from St. Joseph have opted for priesthood and Religious life. These servants of the Church give layers of explanation for the phenomenon, including young and inspiring parish priests, proximity to the Capitol, plenty of opportunities for young people to be active in parish life, frequent confession times, round-the-clock eucharistic adoration and even the influence of St. Joseph himself.    

The parish, the largest in Oregon, has 10 weekend Masses, two daily Masses and scores of activities, including youth groups, youth choir and even an annual girls’ pilgrimage to visit convents.

Holy Cross Father Dan Parrish, ordained at Notre Dame in 2004, graduated from St. Joseph School in 1987 then went on to Regis High and the University of Portland. Father Parrish calls St. Joseph Church the foundation of his vocation.

For one thing, the community helped him through hard times. His parents divorced when he was 5 and he lived with his father. When he was 12, the family towing company failed and there was fear of losing the house. The parish and school helped the household negotiate poverty, reducing tuition and lunch costs. When young Dan broke down a few times because of the pressure, teachers comforted him.  

“The parish provided a space for us to go through life,” Father Parrish says. “I always felt the Church was a place I could go to seek refuge and solace.”   

The priests at St. Joseph inspired him. One day in class, Father David Cullings came into the classroom and asked the boys who would want to be a priest. Like most, little Dan raised his hand.

“He was the cool priest who played guitar,” Father Parrish explains.

Later, the boy started to notice girls and set the idea of priesthood aside. He hated being poor and so set out to become rich and marry the perfect woman. At the same time, he took note of the pastor of St. Joseph, Msgr. Carl Gimpl. “He gave everything he had for us,” recalls Father Parrish, who became an altar boy as soon as he could. Later, he would become active in St. Joseph’s vibrant youth group.

After dating and exploring a career in teaching, he felt there was more to explore. When a few people encouraged him to consider priesthood, he was open to the idea. The 6-foot-5 Oregonian packed off to Notre Dame to enter formation with the Congregation of Holy Cross, which he had met at UP. He has served in residence hall life at Notre Dame and will soon start teaching in the business school.   

As he looks back, Father Parrish credits his vocation in part to the solid priests, the weekly school Mass and the opportunities to be a part of liturgy. “The parish was not a place where we kids were a nuisance,” he recalls. “It belonged to us.”

Father Theodore Lange, now a formation director at Mount Angel Seminary, remembers seeing Msgr. Gimpl in the St. Joseph adoration chapel in the wee hours. That example of dedication in prayer from a man who also worked so hard stuck with the youth.

“The perpetual adoration chapel has been a big part of my journey to the priesthood,” says Father Lange, ordained for the Archdiocese of Portland in 2009.

He cites big families that helped create a vibrant family environment, plus a schedule that bespoke the importance of sacramental life.

“There are confessions before almost every Mass so you can actually go to confession,” he says. “Daily Mass is at 7:05 so you can go to Mass before work or at 12:05 so you can go during lunch.” Father Lange recalls priests always available for the sacraments and willing to speak the truth in love.  

“St. Joseph’s has more of an openness to Church teaching with a strong Marian spirituality,” the priest says. There are chapters of the Legion of Mary and the Schonestatt Marian renewal, plus Communion and Liberation and the Rosary prayed before or after daily Masses, is present there.

“In general, people there love the teachings of the Church and love the Church and this fosters an openness in the hearts of some to be open enough to say yes to a call to a religious vocation,” Father Lange concludes.

Father Robert Wolf, administrator of St. Monica Parish in Coos Bay, grew up at St. Joseph Parish and was ordained in 2010.

His first memory of a priest was the gentle and legendary Father John Reedy, who cheerfully greeted children as “Johnny” or “Susie” and no matter what the sins confessed, tended to give three Hail Marys as penance. Father Wolf also recalls Msgr. Carl Gimpl, Father Jim Coleman and Father Todd Molinari as inspiring priests.   

The Wolf family rose for 7 a.m. Mass on Sundays.

“St. Joseph can be so big and daunting,”Father Wolf says. “But in the midst of that, there is always something good happening there.”

As a student at Lane Community College in Eugene, Father Wolf ran track. Several times while having his legs iced in the training room, he met a baseball player with ice on his arm. Though he did not recognize the fellow, it was Theodore Lange, a fellow St. Joseph parishioner who was discerning a path to priesthood. Young Theodore invited young Robert to a Bible study. Robert attended and was impressed, but thought Theodore was a Protestant, because of his biblical knowledge.    

It was only later, when the two met again back at St. Joseph, that Robert realized Theodore was Catholic, a seminarian and from his home parish.

“I credit St. Joseph for what happens at that place,” Father Wolf says. “St. Joseph is the real custodian there.”

Hans Mueller, 32, is in his third year of seminary studies at the North American College in Rome. If all goes according to plan, he will be ordained a deacon in May, 2015. He considers St. Joseph Parish the base of his vocation.

“That is where I grew up in the faith,” he says.

Mueller went on to be a youth minister at St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass. It was there that he made the final decision for priesthood, but knows he was open to the call because of what happened in his home parish.

A homeschool student, he sang in St. Joseph’s children’s choir for years.

He cites Msgr. Gimpl as an example of what priesthood can be. “He knew you and knew what was best for you,” Mueller says. “He was going to give his all for the parish. He was an incredible example of how to serve.”  

Mueller is drawn to the idea of the parish priest as father of the parish family, reliable when it comes to sacraments. “The thing about St. Joseph I would highlight is the availability of Mass and the availability of confessions,” he says. As a teen prone to sleep late, he appreciated noon Mass on Sundays. There was confession before every Mass, including daily Mass, and he saw people lining up to seek God’s mercy.  

“What produces vocations is the sacramental life of the parish,” Mueller says. “To see that life inspires the desire to respond to the call.”

Joshua Keatley, 23, has just begun his seminary career. In 2011, he and his whole family entered the Catholic Church at St. Joseph, having been members of a local evangelical congregation. His call to priesthood progressed quickly, nurtured at St. Joseph.

A graduate of Thomas More College in New Hampshire, he cites the reverence of liturgy and invitations from priests to have young people serve at the altar. The pastors of St. Joseph have tended to be able to care for all parishioners, he says.

Keatley also credits the way the parish has fostered prayer in the adoration chapel. “Young men and women are exposed to the life of prayer and their own deeper friendship with Jesus,” he says.

Third, the parish is home to many large Catholic families, which he calls “a seedbed of Catholic culture.”  

Last, he praises the parish RCIA for offering a conscientious and well-informed program.

Benedictine Brother André Love grew up Catholic, joined the Army at 17 and later became a successful artist who specialized in tattoos and painting. He drifted away from faith. But in 2006, he was working in a tattoo shop just down the street from St. Joseph and noticed the accommodating confession schedule. He went in and made his confession to Father Coleman, feeling like the Prodigal Son. He joined the RCIA and was overwhelmed by the goodness of staff.

“These were good, solid people showing me what it looks like to be a Christian,” he says. “They showed me how to be the person God intended me to be.”

Sometimes, he would be sitting in his apartment and get the sense that God was calling him to come spend time. He would climb on his bicycle and pedal to the parish’s adoration chapel.  

As part of RCIA, members of Religious communities came to speak. He began to sense his call to monastic life and was admitted to Mount Angel Abbey in 2009.
 
Also a monk of Mount Angel is Brother Gregory Benavidez, a Texas native and son of migrant farm workers. Born Joshua, he moved to Salem in 1993 with his mother to be closer to one of his brothers, a construction worker. He worked part-time as a waiter and busboy at a restaurant, but mostly cared for his mother, who was ill. After his mother’s death, he joined his brother in construction.

During the next few years, while grieving over the loss of his mother, Joshua found comfort praying to Mary and returned to his Catholic roots. In 2006, entered the RCIA at St. Joseph and fell in love with the Church’s liturgy and teachings.

While studying at the parish with its strong Marian spirituality, he felt a call to Religious life and began to explore monasticism. One of the RCIA members overheard Joshua talking about becoming a monk and told him that her son was also considering monastic life. She brought him to the abbey, where he found a spiritual home. He professed solemn vows this year.

Rev. Mr. George Kuforiji, a transitional deacon, is to be ordained a priest of the archdiocese this year. He has been studying at Sacred Heart Seminary in Wisconsin.

Born and raised in Nigeria, he came to the U.S. to study. Before entering the seminary in 2010, he worked with the Oregon Department of Transportation and was a member of St. Joseph for 26 years. His vocation to priesthood flourished in the parish’s multicultural milieu.

Rev. Mr. Kuforiji says adoration of the Eucharist created a quiet space in his life so he could hear God’s call. His time in the chapel was 5 p.m. Wednesdays, after work.   

The future Sister Maria Gabriel Standfield was once a veterinarian. On a late-night commute from Tigard to home in Salem in 1997, she fell asleep at the wheel and clipped a signpost. Glass flew everywhere, but she was unscratched. That set her thinking about ultimate matters. She took the experience to her already-active faith life at St. Joseph, where she had been a parishioner since 1994.

Before long, she picked up a church magazine and ran across an advertisement. It showed a map of the U.S. and a map of China with a crucifix between. It said, “In Christ there is no East or West.”

The words and image, especially the crucifix, caused her heart to thump. It was an appeal for vocations from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows, which ministers in China and the U.S. and has members from both hemispheres.

She decided to give up her comfortable existence for a life of poverty and service, professing lifelong vows in 2008. Two young women from the Volz family of St. Joseph have entered Religious life. Sister Mary Dominica of the Incarnation is in a Dominican contemplative order and Franciscan Sister Ana Elena Volz is a missionary.

This summer, St. Joseph Parish welcomed a new priest — Msgr. Richard Huneger. But he’s not really new. He attended St. Joseph School in the 1950s and was a longtime altar server.

He says because the parish is so near the Oregon Capitol, it gives the message that faith is important. That rubs off on young people when they are thinking about what to do in life, he says.

He has fond memories of meeting the kindly young priests, Fathers Vincent Cunniff and Joe Beno and reciting the daily morning offering in school, which he still does to start his day.

Father Coleman, former pastor of St. Joseph and now pastor in Woodburn, also attended St. Joseph School in the 1950s. He says Fathers Beno and Cunniff were “good and solid and sincere.” The priests came into the classrooms to teach religion and Father Cunniff trained altar servers and coached basketball, even though he had little knowledge of the game. Father Coleman believes the priest-coach focused mostly on dribbling since that was the first chapter in his book on basics.

The Holy Names Sisters at St. Joseph always encouraged boys and girls to consider priesthood and Religious life.

As pastor 2003-’07, Father Coleman saw the benefit of eucharistic adoration on youths and young adults. He says it created a deep prayer life, the start of any calling.  

Also hailing from the parish is Father Daniel Maxwell, pastor of Our Lady of Angels Parish in Hermiston, and Father Gerald Quintal, now retired.