Fr. Rock Sassano
Fr. Rock Sassano

BIRKENFELD — At 82, Father Rock Sassano, says it was positive thoughts and prayer that have sustained him in his 50 year career as a priest, and in his life as a human being.

Now retired, the priest leads a quiet life on the shores of Fishhawk Lake here, where he still finds time to publish a newsletter full of his reflections, prayers and poetry.

"I have enjoyed every day of serving," said Father Sassano. "I learned to love God, love people, love the spiritual life, learn to say no and think good thoughts."

Born in 1931, in Billings, Mont., Father Sassano attended Billings Central Catholic High School in 1950. He spent one year at the University of Portland in 1950 before transferring to Gonzaga University where he received a bachelor's degree in 1954.

He began dentistry school at Marquette University, but left after three years for the spiritual hilltop of Mount Angel Abbey, where he enrolled at the seminary, graduating in 1963. He was ordained a priest for the Benedictines in 1963 by Archbishop Edward Howard. He also received a master's degree from Oregon State University in 1965.

Father Sassano, 81, served as a monk at Mount Angel from 1963 until 1986. He was incardinated as a priest for the Archdiocese of Portland in 1987.

While at Mount Angel, he served as Seminary High School as an assistant principal, and for years as the Abbey Museum Curator. He also worked in development at the abbey while assisting at parishes. He also served on the Salem YMCA board for five years and was active with Young Life.

In 1986 he was assigned as parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish, Salem. He then served as parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist, Milwaukie, from 1986 to 1988, pastor of St. Peter Parish, Portland, 1988-'92, and pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish from 1992 to 1998, after which he retired.

Father Sassano is an active parishioner at St. John the Baptist Church in Clatskanie. Last year he donated a new altar to the parish, commissioning local craftsmen William and Alvin Elbert to incorporate a sculpture of Jesus and the 12 apostles that Father Sassano's brother had come upon into the project. The priest paid for the materials for the project.

Hard work might not be the key to happiness, says Father Sassano, but his priestly ministry of being involved in people's lives and staying busy had its fringe benefits.

"I worked seven days a week, 50 weeks a year, and I have never had a headache," said Father Sassano. "I have enjoyed the totality of spirituality that being a priest has brought me. It has been a good life."