Catholic Sentinel photo by Steve Hambuchen
Bob Hughley
Catholic Sentinel photo by Steve Hambuchen
Bob Hughley
Liturgical changes are coming to the Catholic Church.

Even grander reforms were afoot on a spring afternoon in 1958, a day when Bob Hughley was outside constructing a picket fence to keep his children from wandering into traffic.

Father Martin Thielen, resembling a majestic Tyrone Power in a cassock, came flowing across the street from St. Stephen Church in Southeast Portland. He asked his amiable parishioner to come by the sacristy Sunday morning to prepare to read the scriptures in English.

Hughley, a teacher at Roosevelt High School at the time, agreed to take on the new role, despite feeling stunned. In the Catholic Church, only priests had read scripture at Mass since time immemorial.

“God does not call us to serve because we are ready,” Hughley has famously said.
He had trained in speech and diction, had given a high school valedictory address and taught hundreds of classes, so he was not really nervous. But it was all so new.

It went well. Gifted with a rich voice and clean annunciation, he won accolades from parishioners. He was the sole lector at St. Stephen's for years and saw the entire Mass shift to English in the mid-1960s. He continued lectoring at St. Andrew Parish in Northeast Portland, beginning in 1981.

This spring, the dean of Portland lectors retired after 53 years of proclaiming God's word. But he'll fill in whenever there's a need.

Hughley, 85, later found that he had been part of a priestly episode of "keeping up with the Joneses." Father Thielen's friend, Father Thomas Tobin, had allowed laypeople to read in English at nearby All Saints Church the week before Hughley was invited.

"Father Thielen would not be outdone," Hughley says, erupting into laughter part way through the sentence.   

Early on as a lector, Hughley stood outside the altar rail and opposite from where the priest proclaimed the gospel and preached. He had no microphone, so had to belt it out.

Later, when altar rails were removed, a lectern was put in place. Eventually, lectors read from the same ambo the priest used.

As a college undergraduate, and before converting to Catholicism, Hughley would soak in the sermons of the Rev. Vernon Johns, a civil rights pioneer and pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Rev. Johns would proclaim scripture without opening the book, as if it were personal testimony. That kind of intimacy with the life of Christ became one of Hughley's goals.

He moved to Portland to work and bought a house just across the street from the St. Stephen's schoolyard. That proximity led him to explore the Catholic faith. He and his wife joined the church in the mid-'50s. It was not long before his dream of diving into scripture became true.   

Hughley is not sure about the current liturgical reform, which is reclaiming some pre-Vatican II traditions. But he is sure people will like the changes eventually.

"His reading of the creation story at the Easter Vigil is a gift to our whole community," says Joy Ruplinger, youth ministry coordinator at St. Andrew. "He has a way of telling a story that can capture and hold even the most energetic child in the pews."

Hughley, a father of six and a widower, has served in many ways. Holder of a doctorate in education, he was principal of the old St. Andrew School, a member of the first Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, leader of a St. Andrew summer day camp and a key player in founding De La Salle North High School and St. Andrew Nativity School.

Hughley has won an award for fighting racism. For years, he has taken Communion to homebound parishioners and brings a man who is blind to Mass each Sunday.