7/14/2013 11:11:00 AM Portland Franciscan formation house to relocate
Franciscan friars photo
Postulants James Seiffert and Tuong Vu with Franciscan friars John dePaemelaere, Michael Harvey, Pat Evard and Martin Sanabria in Portland. The house of formation will move to California.
Fr. John dePaemelaere
Franciscan fixture will move to California
Franciscan Father John dePaemelaere, 94, has served in the region for 60 years, the last 22 of them in his religious order's postulancy program. The amiable friar will be moving to Mission Santa Barbara to continue the work with postulants as the program relocates.
"It's a change," says Father dePaemelaere, a friar for 70 years. "It's something I feel I need to do to help the program we have. It's been nice here."
The priest will be living at a mission where he himself was in formation between 1947-'51. But shortly after, he came north to serve people who are poor, educate and give spiritual direction. He stayed until now, mostly serving quietly but seen as a spiritual headliner to those who know him.
“We have been blessed in our family with his works,” said Sue Dohn of Northwest Portland, speaking to the Catholic Sentinel three years ago. “He has blessed, buried, married and baptized many of us. We all love him.”
“Friar John witnesses by his presence, his prayer life, his words and his works the peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi,” said Kay Keyes, a Seattle professor who is a secular Franciscan. In a talk delivered in 2002, Keyes said that Father dePaemelaere “shows us how to live and share the Peace of Christ.”
He grew up in Gardena, Calif. and graduated from high school in 1937. To support his younger siblings during the Depression, he found a job as a cement contractor and with an oil well supply company. He recalls going to the farm supply store and buying cattle feed for the family to eat at breakfast.
He entered the seminary in 1940 and was ordained a Franciscan priest at the Old Mission Santa Barbara. Father dePaemelaere immediately began work as a parish priest and hospital chaplain in Phoenix and then as a teacher, youth director and coach in Sacramento. In 1953, his superiors transferred him to the Archdiocese of Portland, where he lived at St. Mary Parish in Shaw and taught at Sacred Heart Academy. On weekends, he assisted at large St. Joseph Parish in Salem.
In 1954, he helped open Serra High School in Salem. There, he served as an assistant principal, teacher, athletic director and disciplinarian. He found time to be the parish priest in Shaw and Independence and was the chaplain for the Newman Club at what was then the state teachers’ college in Monmouth.
The priest’s good work got noticed and he was named principal of Serra High in 1958. He obtained an advanced degree in education and simultaneously served as chaplain at Chemawa Indian High School in Salem.
After declining enrollment caused the closure of Serra in 1969, he stayed on at Chemawa and was offered a position as a correctional counselor at Oregon State Penitentiary. That began a long career in prison ministry and working with parolees. In 1988, Father dePaemelaere was named the Oregon Department of Corrections employee of the year.
In 1991, having retired from corrections work, he moved to Portland and began training and mentoring young Franciscans, the ministry he will continue back in California.
After 60 years of training future friars here Franciscan men will no longer have a house of formation in Oregon.
As of next fall, the religious order's postulancy house near Our Lady of Sorrows will close. Postulants — men in their second year of Franciscan formation — will live at Mission Santa Barbara in California.
The move comes so that the friars-to-be can get to meet more Franciscans, who are concentrated in California and the Southwest, says Father Michael Harvey, who directs the program. The need became more urgent because the Santa Barbara Province has melded its novitiate with Wisconsin Franciscans; after postulancy, the west coast men in formation will spend novitiate years south of Milwaukee, Wis. "We love the Northwest and our men will visit here for a period of formation," Father Harvey says. "But most of our ministry is in the Southwest. We wanted men to have a touch of the ministry."
Postulants learn the history and teachings of St. Francis and St. Clare, then study what Franciscan mission is today. They are taught to strive to live the gospel. This year began with two postulants and ends with one headed to novitiate. Four men are slated to begin postulancy in California in the fall; two are Iraqi nationals and one a U.S. Iraq war veteran.
Mission Santa Barbara, founded by the Franciscans in 1786, is a more central location in the province, Father Harvey explains.
The Franciscan postulancy house has been located in Portland for more than 30 years, first in Northwest Portland, then near Ascension Parish, later near St. Andrew Parish and finally at Our Lady of Sorrows. Franciscans tend to rent, not purchase, and so movement happens; it's part of the Franciscan itinerant way.
Franciscan seminarians were trained in Salem in the early 1950s and in 1958 the order opened a high school seminary in Troutdale. That school closed in the 1970s. This is the second religious order in two years to shut a formation house in Portland.
In 2011, the Jesuits closed their Portland novitiate, a two-year period for men just entering the religious community. That move came because the Oregon and California provinces are gradually melding. New Jesuits now go through novitiate in Culver City, Calif.
The Franciscans will still minister in Oregon. They tend Ascension Parish in Portland and St. John the Baptist Parish in Milwaukie. One of their men also runs a ministry for low-income Portlanders on Southeast 82nd Avenue.
Father Harvey has been assisting on weekends at St. Pius Parish and says he will miss the archdiocese.