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3/15/2013 3:55:00 PM
Archbishop Vlazny: 'He was us'
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
The archbishop enjoys an accordion air in Scappoose.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Gerry Lewin
The archbishop enjoys an accordion air in Scappoose.
Brian Doyle

We forget that before he was His Excellency he was a boy on the west side of Chicago. He went to school at Saint Gall’s. He was us. He became a parish priest, celebrating weddings and baptizing babies and anointing the dying and worrying about the roof of the church. He was us. He knew where the parish basketballs and baseballs were. He did the work. He was one of us. He never forgot that. That’s why he was a glorious archbishop.

He knew that lies were sins and all lies are lies no matter what excuse or explanation you drape on the lies. He was responsible for nothing that happened before he arrived in 1998 but he accepted the work and cleaned up the mess and set ferocious standards and lived up to them. He did the work. He was us. He knew he would go down in history tarred as the first archbishop to ever declare bankruptcy but he did it anyway because he thought it was right and fair and needed to be done so sins could be best addressed and he never complained about the tarring, that I ever heard.

He knew what mattered — kids and sacraments and hope and community — and he never wavered from putting every iota of his creativity and boundless energy toward what mattered.  

Whatever mysterious unimaginable force it is that showers us with grace when we are most desperate for grace showered us with an ocean of grace when the Spirit delivered John Vlazny to Portland. All the rest of my life when I think of John Vlazny I will think first of that uproarious infectious laugh, but then I will remember that my family and friends and colleagues in the ancient faith in Oregon were granted an extraordinary priest as master teacher for 15 years. I think he saved the Catholic Church, as a vigorous concern, in Oregon; but his greater accomplishment was an honesty, a humor, a blunt grace that elevated and enlivened and restored hope and faith to many thousands of people here. That is deeply holy. Perhaps that is a miracle.

The writer is editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Grace Notes, a collection of spiritual essays.

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