ST. BENEDICT — Speaking after his installation as president-rector of Mount Angel Seminary Wednesday night, Father Joseph Betschart thanked not only visiting dignitaries, but the kitchen help as well.
Father Betschart, a former western Oregon pastor, loves being a priest so much that his voice cracks when he mentions his vocation. But this native of Sandy also believes in the dignity of the laity.
"In a real way, this is your seminary because these will be your priests," Father Betschart told supporters filling the Abbey Church.
The installation came the day after Father Betschart turned 47 and four months after he left several posts at seminaries in Rome.
"I am touched by your support and encouragement," he told the entire assembly. "It is so good to be home with you."
Explaining that the work of fostering vocations is something the entire church must do, he told the crowd that he can hardly express how grateful he is to be a priest. "Outside of Christ himself, it is the love of my life," he said. The most important duty of a priest, he explained, is to "personify God in his love for us."
Father Betschart's appointment was announced in January and he has been on the job since July at the seminary, established by the Benedictine monks in the 1880s. Before the twilight liturgy, massive bells pealed in the church's lofty tower. Scores of students at this full hilltop school for future priests blessed themselves as they entered to celebrate their new leader and mentor. Seminarians hail from all over the western U.S., Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
"Father Joseph, you have already been a true blessing to us," Abbot Gregory Duerr said during the homily. "You have already shown your commitment to forming priests with the mind and heart of Christ."
Abbot Gregory said seminaries must abide by documents from the Vatican and the nation's bishops. But the leader of a seminary must also follow the Gospel, the abbot added. "Your task is to point out Jesus the priest to our seminarians," he told the new president-rector, suggesting that a priest's chief calling is to imitate Christ's self-emptying love.
Father Betschart made a public profession of faith and took an oath of fidelity to the church. The abbot then presented him with a book of the Gospels and a priestly stole as symbols of office. In addition, the abbot gave Father Betschart an icon of Jesus the Eternal High Priest, which shows the Lord in vestments holding Gospel verses that include, "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep."
As the assembly applauded, Father Betschart gave a deep, spontaneous bow of respect to everyone.
The liturgy's theme ran strong and true from the opening hymn to the final prayers — Jesus, the great high priest, shows the way.
"We have a great high priest in Jesus Christ and a very, very good priest in Father Joseph," said Archbishop John G. Vlazny, who presided at the Mass. Other visiting prelates included Bishop Liam Cary of Baker, Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City and Bishop Randolph Calvo of Reno. Bishops from around the region send their seminarians to Mount Angel.
Music ranged from Latin chant to English hymns. A schola sang Palestrina's Sicut Cervus, "As a deer longs for springs of water, so my soul longs for you, O God." The same scriptural verse is laid in mosaic in front of the altar of the Abbey Church. Seminarians served as lectors and singers. Bringing up the gifts for the Eucharist were Father Betschart's parents, Bob and Joanne Betschart of Sandy.
Father Betschart attended Sandy Union High School and earned a nuclear engineering degree from Oregon State University. He then served for five years as an officer in the Navy. While in the Navy, he continued academics work and received a masters in religious studies from the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College.
In 1994, he entered Mount Angel Seminary and then was sent to Rome to complete his priestly formation at the Pontifical North American College. He was ordained in 1999 by Archbishop John Vlazny.
Father Betschart earned theology and dogmatic theology degrees with high honors from the Pontifical Gregorian University and is currently working on a sacred theology doctorate from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas/Angelicum in Rome.
He has served as parochial vicar at St. Cecilia Church in Beaverton and pastor of Our Lady of the Mountain Church in Ashland. In addition to his experiences in Rome, Father Betschart has served as assistant director/director of the Archdiocesan Respect Life Office in Portland and director/chaplain at the Walsh Memorial Newman Center at Southern Oregon University.
Beginning in 2007, Father Betschart served as the academic dean and one of the formation advisors at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He also taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University.