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1/4/2011 2:51:00 PM
Vocation: He obeyed, and says being a priest is fun
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Msgr. Carl Gimpl still tends to lawn care at St. Patrick Parish in Independence.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
Msgr. Carl Gimpl still tends to lawn care at St. Patrick Parish in Independence.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Msgr. Carl Gimpl, 82, has spent a lifetime responding to need — even if he had other ideas. At a stage in life when most men are long retired, Msgr. Gimpl is pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Independence, a bustling community made up largely of Spanish speakers. He says Mass in a language in which he is not fluent and yet is highly appreciated for being what he has been his entire priestly life — a servant.

He grew up in Eugene in a house nine blocks from St. Mary Church. If an altar server were needed, he got the call. After he graduated from the parish’s high school, he planned to enlist in the Army Air Corps.

But one evening after work at a local cannery, he returned home to a message from his pastor. The next day, he went to see Father Francis Leipzig, future bishop of the Diocese of Baker.

“I think you’d better go to seminary,” Father Leipzig said.  

The boy had considered priestly life a bit, but flying planes sounded much better. Young Carl took the seminary suggestion to heart, though, and considered his liking for Father Leipzig and the young assistant priest, Father Louis Sohler, who was “kind and gentle with everybody.” The boy knew that people needed priests.

That fall, he headed to Mount Angel College. It took a few years, but he became convinced that this was the life for him. He was ordained in Portland’s cathedral in 1955, at age 26.

His yearning for the wild blue yonder remained. He asked Archbishop Edward Howard if he could become an Air Force chaplain. The archbishop discerned other talents in him, however, and sent him to work at the new Catholic summer camp in the Mount Hood foothills.

The youthful priest went cheerfully and stayed in the ministry for 20 years. He ran not only the camp, but the entire Catholic Youth Organization with its many sports and other activities.

“I learned to be patient,” he says of working with young people.

The life at camp was one of the best things for children he could imagine. He aided in parishes the whole while, saying Mass, giving counsel, hearing confessions, visiting the sick.

He later became a parish priest, serving for long stints, including more than a decade at St. Joseph Parish in Salem, one of the busiest and largest Catholic churches in Oregon.

In addition to parish work, Msgr. Gimpl spends hours at the Archdiocese of Portland office, going over annulment requests and other matters of canon law. It’s tedious work, but he embraces it simply because it has to be done.

“It keeps you out of mischief,” he says of the priest’s life. He intends to continue serving as long as his health holds.

Msgr. Gimpl likes everything about priesthood and would not change a thing, even if it meant he could fly airplanes.  

“If you take it for what it is,” he says, “being a priest is all fun.”

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