Fr. Stephen Fister
Fr. Stephen Fister
GOLD HILL — For more than a decade, Benedictine Father Stephen Fister has led a Southern Oregon retreat center named after the patroness of impossible causes.
Though he himself has not yet been the object of petitions sent to St. Rita, he feels blessed to have witnessed many incorrigible people be turned around in life.

St. Rita Retreat will be the final assignment before retirement for this man who was a monk and a parish priest before taking the role of retreat house director in 2001.  

A half hour from Medford and 20 minutes from Grants Pass, the 63-acre property overlooks the undulating Rogue River Valley. Father Fister has sought to affirm and cultivate the holiness of the place.

“People have said that as soon as they enter through the gates, they turn off the car radio,” Father Fister told the Catholic Sentinel in 2005. “There is an atmosphere of sacred quiet. That is the spirit of the place.”

In a decade when several Oregon Catholic retreat centers closed their big campuses, St. Rita has endured. Father Fister says the trick is staying moderate in size with a small paid staff. From the start, volunteers have done much of the heavy lifting. They maintain the trails and do much building upkeep.

Scores of southern Oregon Catholics think of the place as their spiritual home and are grateful that Father Fister kept it going.

He has simultaneously served as parochial vicar at St. Anne Parish in Grants Pass.

Actually, Father Fister's life will not change radically after retirement. At the request of the board of directors, he'll continue to live at St. Rita's and answer the phones, but volunteers will take on the work. He'll also help at St. Anne's.  

"I'll be doing the same things for a lot less pay now," says a chuckling Father Fister.

Born in 1948 in St. Paul, Minn. and raised in Glascow, Mont., he earned a bachelor's degree in history at San Diego State University and entered California's Prince of Peace Benedictine Abbey in 1976. He earned a master's in theology from Mount Angel Seminary in 1982 and was ordained that year. He served his abbey as guestmaster, novice master, and was in charge of the retreat house. He came to the Baker Diocese in 1990.

For 11 years, he tended five small churches in remote north-central Oregon — Dufur, Maupin, Antelope, Wasco and Grass Valley. When Baker Bishop Thomas Connolly assigned him, he told the young monk to tell the ranchers and farmers that God loves them and that the church is there for them.

"That's what I've kept doing," Father Fister says.

Given another chance, he'd live his priesthood the same way again.

"It's been a wonderful life," he says. "I've enjoyed the people. I've enjoyed being able to give them the sacramemts. They get blessings, I suppose, and I know I get a lot of blessings also."