Classmate Servants

Classmate Servants

The Class of 1962 is typical of most classes that have graduated from Central Catholic with close, sometimes lifelong friendships formed in the halls and classrooms. Almost 60 years after their graduation, the Class of 1962 still gathers socially three to four times a year. Most members of this class have achieved personal and sometimes financial success and most have gone on to make a positive impact on their communities. Recently, we learned about an important milestone shared by four 1962 graduates; the 50th anniversary of their ordination to the priesthood. During their time at Central Catholic, the school had an all-male student body, a faculty that was almost entirely religious (i.e. priests and sisters), and was often seen as a “de facto pipeline to the seminary.” These four Rams, Brad Killingsworth (BK), Larry Zinsli (LZ), (both of whom have since left the priesthood), Rev. Pat McNamee (RPM), and Msgr. Don Buxman (MDB) were all ordained in their home parishes in June of 1970, at St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, All Saints, and St. Charles, respectively. In honor of this milestone, we decided to catch up with them, to hear about their lives of service during the intervening years, and to see if they had any advice for today’s Central Catholic students.

CC: What are your best/favorite memories of Central Catholic?
Some 50 years ago, all the boys of the eighth grade class from All Saints or other parishes went to Central Catholic. I really enjoyed continuing my education with them.

MDB: My best memories of Central Catholic were making new friends and reconnecting with friends from the past, one of them being Fr. Pat McNamee, who left Mt. Angel Seminary at the end of his sophomore year and joined me at Central Catholic. I was grateful for the classes and teachers, especially Fr. Domin’s Art class, Bob Cassidy’s class, and Fr. Altstock’s Religion class. I also appreciated having Mass available before morning classes.

LZ: One of the best memories of Central Catholic is the Class of 1962. Simply said, the ones that I remember were all nice guys. Granted, I can only speak for myself, but in my years at Central Catholic, I never encountered one of them in all my interactions who was mean; they were kind. I may have been just fortunate, however, I like to believe it was due to the caliber of my classmates. Some of my best memories are my favorite classes, such as Sociology with Fr. Harrington, Biology with Fr. Neuville, Chemistry with Fr. Dernbach, Latin with Mother Brendan, and working as a stage manager with Fr. Juliano on one of the senior plays. My three boys all graduated from Central Catholic. When given the choice, they chose Central Catholic because the teachers they observed came across as happy to be there. Their experiences validated mine.

BK: Fr. John Domin, who taught art, was my favorite. I always tell people, “God gave me eyes, but John Domin taught me how to see.” He had this wonderful dry wit. I remember he was the yearbook advisor and he would get on the intercom to sell the yearbook, saying things like, “Don’t forget to buy your orangutan hide yearbook,” (referring to the color of that year’s yearbook cover). I learned calligraphy from Fr. Domin and am using that skill for the program for my son’s upcoming wedding.

CC: Please share some of the highlights/turning points/milestones of your life since you graduated from Central Catholic.
RPM: There are many. Entering Mt. Angel Seminary was a highlight of my life and the best choice I ever made. Also, I have served in 14 parishes. I have accepted and modeled ministry for seminarians and deacons for 30 years and have loved sharing the many things I learned. I have been blessed to travel extensively, including to Ireland many times, where I’ve been able to learn about my ancestry. I did a continuing education course where I spent three months in Rome, which landed me in the holiest of places, including the very tomb of St. Peter himself. Recently, I offered to deacons a historical tour of the beginnings of the Catholic Church in Oregon and enjoyed sharing our beginnings in Oregon City and Portland. Family weddings, holidays, and gatherings continue to energize me.

MDB: During my three years at Central Catholic I worked at Piggly Wiggly’s grocery store for 28 hours a week, so I didn’t have time to get involved in after-school or weekend activities. At the end of my senior year, I considered a number of options for my future, the most important one being to head back to Mt. Angel Seminary to reassess becoming a priest. McNamee, unaware of my plans, was thinking of doing the same thing. So when he asked me to write something in his yearbook, I wrote: “I’ll see you back on the Hill (Mt. Angel).” Pat and I have been friends since 1958 and now, after 50 years as priests, we live down the street from each other at the Archdiocese’s St. John Vianney priest retirement center in Beaverton.

BK: There are many, the first of which happened in elementary school, when I had my first crisis of faith. (I’ve had maybe four of these in my life.) I was in fourth grade, maybe ten years old and I became fixated on the question: Does God really exist? This was resolved for me when I observed Fr. Laidlaw, our pastor at St. Charles. I figured, “Fr. Laidlaw is a smart man. If he believes in God, then so can I.” Later, when I was at Mt. Angel Seminary I had a crisis of meaning. What is the meaning of my life? What is my purpose? At the time, I was teaching catechism to high schoolers in Mt. Angel. One teenaged girl in particular stands out because she was very smart and very obstinate. Every week she would challenge me to prove to her that God exists, knocking down every argument I would pose in favor of God’s existence. (Her older brother also happened to be a seminarian and I sometimes wished that she would just go ask him.) This really got to me and I wondered, “How can I be a priest if I can’t get through to this young woman that God really exists?” I prayed about it a lot, read and reflected on this question, and eventually the answer came to me. The meaning of my life was to serve others, in whatever form service took.

CC: What led you to the priesthood?

After completing my freshman year at Mt. Angel Seminary where I decided to end my studies to become a priest, I arrived at Central Catholic in the fall of 1959 for my final three years of high school. Fr. Dan Reynolds, our assistant pastor at St. Charles Parish in Portland, saw me at daily Mass before school began and also involved me, often with others in our family, in a lot of parish activities. Perhaps that is why he had suggested that I consider the priesthood

LZ: Growing up in a Catholic family was an early influence, as my parents were actively involved in the Church at the parish level and we participated regularly in parish activities which for my brothers and myself, included serving at Mass. Attending Catholic grade school for eight years and four years at Central Catholic also played a part in leading me to the priesthood. During my time at Central, a good number of faculty were priests and nuns. So, I was able to observe a number of priests and nuns that I admired and was encouraged by several to seriously consider the priesthood, which I did during my high school years.

RPM: Growing up, there were several priests and nuns who influenced me by the example of living their happiness in ministry. Those at Central were no exception.

BK: Fr. Dernbach was one inspiration, as was Fr. Joe Neuville. Fr. Neuville taught biology but what I most remember about him was that he was so willing to just sit and talk with us, to just shoot the breeze. He would tell stories and we would talk about life.

CC: What sustained you in your vocation?

LZ: I was assigned to St. Rose Parish in Portland for my deacon year, and after ordination in 1970 I was reassigned to St. Rose as parochial vicar. It was a vibrant parish, with a rich history and tradition, and wonderful people. My eight years at St. Rose were years that I will always cherish. Celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments, preparing and delivering homilies, and sharing our common faith around First Communions, funerals, weddings, in various ministries, getting to know the families and being invited into their lives, were very sustaining forces in my vocation. In addition to the people of the parish, the pastor, Fr. Ed Zenner, under whom I served as deacon and his assistant, was also a person who blessed my life. He was a beloved pastor and mentor who greatly influenced my growth as a priest. His sudden death in 1976 was a blow to me and the parish.

RPM: The people. The people have sustained me in all 14 parishes in which I’ve served.

MDB: What sustained my vocation was having close friends (priests and laity) and the daily celebration of Eucharist as well as the other sacraments from Baptism through the Anointing of the Sick and Dying. I loved working with the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and walking with them in their journey of faith, culminating in Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil.

CC: Two of you left the priesthood. What led you to that decision?

LZ: When I informed my parents that I had decided to enter the seminary and study to be a priest, they were supportive. However, my mother had one reservation about my decision and I still remember her telling me, “I think you will miss having a family.” Her motherly intuition turned out to be accurate. After 16 years of priestly ministry, it became truly clear to me that even though there was so much I loved about being a priest, I felt the deep need for a more intimate community vis-à-vis family. After several years of wrestling with a decision, I left the priesthood in 1986. One of my favorite philosophers, Dr. Seuss, sums up for me my years as a priest and departing the priesthood in this way, “I’m not crying because it’s over, rather I’m happy it happened.”

BK: Simply put, I fell in love.

CC: What has been the most rewarding part of your vocation, whatever that turned out to be?

LZ: My life has been enriched with what I would consider several vocations. One vocation was the priesthood, another followed upon leaving the priesthood in 1986, when I took a position at the Washington County Community Corrections Center in Hillsboro. During my years, I supervised a team of probation/parole officers and supervised drug and mental health offenders, sex offenders, domestic violence offenders, and a wide variety of general offenders. Though it was stressful and at times challenging, it was never boring. To motivate another person to change their behavior or way of thinking and see positive changes in their life was extremely rewarding. This helped lessen the impact of the tragedies and failures one also experienced in this work vocation. Another rewarding feature of my work vocation was my co-workers, who were always so supportive and kind not only to me, but with their clients. Then in 1988 I took on an even more important vocation when I married my wife, Kathy. This April, we will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary. I have been blessed and found it most rewarding to have found my best friend who is so compassionate, loving, creative, and successful in what she does, including winning triathlons. We consider one of our greater accomplishments our three sons. When I retired for the first time in 2003, our three boys were 9, 11, and 12 years of age. Being retired, at least part time, provided opportunities to spend time with them through their elementary, junior, and high school years. I will always cherish those years. Jordan graduated from CCHS (2009) and University of Denver (2015); Jacob graduated from CCHS (2010) and OSU (2016); Sam graduated from CCHS (2012) and OSU (2016). All three double majored in college and are enjoying rewarding careers. Overall, the most rewarding feature in my vocations are the persons I have encountered and those I have loved.

MDB: It has been a most rewarding vocation getting to know parishioners and ministering to them in so many varied ways. Some of the most profound moments were hearing Confessions and giving absolution, especially before Anointing the Sick, praying with them, and giving Viaticum (Communion as Food for the Journey to see God face-to-face). 

RPM: The gift of the priesthood is recognizing the goodness of people and the gifts they have. I try to pull the best out of them.

CC: Of the four character virtues on which our students are focused this year: Conscientiousness, Integrity, Kindness, and Resilience, which one resonates with you the most?

Conscientiousness. I think Central Catholic has the unique opportunity to develop vocation in the broadest sense, meaning that the Holy Spirit opens the conscientiousness for making the right decisions in life and believing that our baptism into Christ gives us a fantastic edge on lifting our burdens and those burdens of others.

BK: All of them are important, but without a doubt, Kindness stands out in front for me. Especially now, in these times in which we’re living.

LZ: The virtue which resonates with me the most is Kindness. I believe it takes on even more importance in the era in which we live. All through the various periods of my life I have been on the receiving end of kindness. It has been a gift extended to me by so many, and it has impacted me on many different levels. I do not believe there is anyone who is not moved by kindness. As a priest, one’s patience can be worn thin in the hectic day to day pastoral life, and to always be kind can be challenging. In my work as a probation and parole officer, even if I was arresting and putting an individual in handcuffs, I believed it was important to show kindness. We live in confrontational and stressful times, which, it appears, kindness is a virtue that sometimes is in short supply. I think we need more of it rather than immediately judging or condemning others because of who they are or what they believe. “Sometimes you have to be kind to others not because they’re nice but because you are.”

MDB: Conscientiousness. Several years ago I heard a priest talk about working with students who got into trouble. When he called one into his office to talk, if they said “I will try harder,” he would say “try to pick up that wastebasket over there.“ When they picked up the wastebasket, he would say “I didn’t tell you to pick it up; I said to try to pick it up.” Then he added: “Either you do it or you don’t.” I found this to be a wise lesson. It pays great dividends to “give it your all” when doing something rather than being half-hearted and doing only what’s necessary. That has been my working goal in ministry and it has served me well. 

CC: If you could speak to the current students of Central Catholic, what words of wisdom, or advice would you share with them?RPM: I like a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.”

BK: I’d recommend to the students of Central Catholic: “Follow your dream.” That’s what I did when I decided to become a priest 50 (plus another 12) years ago. I did that again when I signed on to become a missionary priest in Bolivia, South America. I felt drawn to serve the poorest of the poor, or “Christ in his distressed disguise,” as Mother Teresa called them. I also taught high school there for 16 years. I did it again when I fell in love and decided to leave the priesthood to marry Maria Dorys Daza. When my first son Jerry was nine, he opened up his dream to me. He wanted to become a Hollywood actor and support himself with his art work while he was becoming rich and famous. Most fathers with an eye toward security would have had apoplexy at the mere idea. My response: “Go for it, Son, follow your dream.” Ten years later he renewed his American passport all by himself, bought an airplane ticket with money from a part time job, and informed his mother and me that he was going to Miami to pursue the American Dream. Once again, “Go for it my boy, I’m all for you,” although his mother’s heart was in her throat. My younger son said later, after following his brother to the U.S., “Enough of this nonsense. I want you and Mom to come up here to Miami and live with us.” So I quit my job; we sold our home and here we are. Your answers may not always fit in all of the right categories, but if you follow your heart and follow your dream, you can’t go far wrong. 

LZ: Travel. “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

If the opportunity presents itself to study abroad, do so. It is never too soon to begin your travels. I think a respect and appreciation for other lands is even more important today. I have had the opportunity to travel over the years to a number of interesting destinations including the Middle East, Europe, Scandinavia, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada by train, and throughout the United States. These travel adventures have greatly widened my world view and enhanced my appreciation of other cultures, traditions, and ways of life. My wife and I both loved to travel prior to our marriage and made the decision that we would continue to travel beginning with our honeymoon to Paris, Amsterdam, and Munich. Travel was not an adventure we planned on putting off to retirement. We continued taking trips even after our boys were born, packing a double stroller and a lot of diapers and Pull-Ups. As the boys got older, we made multiple trips to France, giving them the opportunity to attend school there for periods of time. Their second major in college was French, which they speak fluently. Travel has been a great learning experience for all of us, learning to appreciate so much more the richness of other countries. We feel much more a citizen of the world. I think a respect and appreciation for other lands is even more important today. Travel is one way to develop respect and care for our common humanity. These hymnal words are so true:

This is my home, the country where my heart is.
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

MDB: My final comment to students reading this is to ask that you at least consider a vocation to priesthood or religious life. Believe me, IF God is calling you to such a Vocation and you answer His call, you will experience, as we all have, times of incredible satisfaction and a deep sense of joy. Don’t waste your time and energy comparing yourself to others. You are a unique creation of God, with talents/gifts given to you to develop that will serve you and others well as you celebrate and share them during your lifetime. And rejoice in the gifts that others have to share.