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  • Writer's pictureFr. Vili Lehtoranta

The Priest and the Oblate Retreats

This is a repost from the latest newsletter of the Oblates of the Holy Face. It tells about the retreat Bishop McGuire conducted at Mount Vernon, Washington, in June 2024. St. Gertrude the Great Roman Catholic Church has the fundraiser for the Oblate Sisters, so that we can soon have a home for them.

Dear friends of the Oblate Sisters,

On the second week of June, I attended the annual priests’ retreat, which Bishop McGuire led at Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church. St. Joseph’s is served by Fathers Carlos Ercoli and Héctor Romero and it’s located in Mount Vernon, Washington. Besides them, the retreat was attended by our SGG Fathers Anthony Brueggemann and Thomas Simpson, and Father Daniel Ahern, who was ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1984. Father Ahern, who just celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination on May 13, is the pastor of St. Augustine Chapel in Carrollton, Virginia.

St. Joseph’s has the old church of the Immaculate Conception parish of Mount Vernon. It started as a mission in 1899. The parish was founded in 1903 as a parish of the Diocese of Nesqually, later the Diocese of Seattle.

One of the duties of a priest is to take care of his own spiritual welfare, and not only of his flock. Canon 126 of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 says: “All secular priests must, at least every three years, perform spiritual exercises, for a time determined by the proper Ordinary, in a pious or other religious house designated by him; no one is exempt from this, except in particular cases, for a just cause and with the express permission of his Ordinary.”

With us priests at the retreat were the three Seminarians of Father Ercoli’s Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. At the end of the retreat, Bishop gave the Minor Orders of Exorcist and Acolyte to one of the Seminarians.

Father Ahern saying Mass at the main altar, while Father Brueggemann says his Mass at the Sacred Heart altar

Besides the regular retreat program, Father Ercoli took us for outings to see the beautiful scenery of the state of Washington. We took a ferry from the town of Anacortes to Friday Harbor, which is located in the San Juan Islands archipelago. There are no bridges to the San Juan Islands, and therefore all travel to and from the mainland is either by air or by water, operated by the Washington State Ferries. The beautiful islands reminded me of Finland, because they look very similar as the Åland Islands in the Baltic Sea. On another day, Father Ahern acted as our tour guide on our trip to Little Mountain Park, which offered great hiking trails and a great view of the Skagit Valley.

The town of Friday Harbor, in the San Juan Islands

Our priest retreat was enlivened by nesting starlings, who have built their nests in the eaves of the church sacristy. They were busy flying back and forth, feeding their hungry young ones. This was a very biblical setting. While the Bible does not mention starlings specifically, it does make many references to ravens and crows. Ravens could be a generic term used for starlings, which were far more common in the Holy Land. In III Kings chapter 17, Prophet Elias tells King Achab that the Lord was sending a drought, after which He leads Elias to a dry land called Kerith, to be safe there. God tells Elias that he will drink from the brook and ravens will give him food. This event took place during the rule of King Achab and his wife, Queen Jezabel. They were evil rulers and disobedient to God’s commandments. We learn in III Kings chapter 18 that Jezabel was killing the prophets of the Lord, and Prophet Abdias was hiding them to rescue them while Elias was in Kerith. They wanted Elias dead and looked for him in all the other cities. Kerith was his retreat and safety, and he was provided for by the birds of the air.

“See how the birds of the air never sow, or reap, or gather grain into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26)

Mount Vernon might be the future home of our Seminary. The plan is to move the Seminary to St. Joseph’s, because it is farther away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Seattle. The Seminarians now live at Holy Redeemer Chapel, also served by Father Ercoli, in Seattle. The noise of the big city can be quite distracting, and since the chapel is only 20 minutes from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, the city sounds are constantly joined in by the arriving and departing airplanes.

Bishop McGuire and Father Ercoli expect that we will get more Seminarians soon. Right now we have three, one of whom is our “own” Seminarian who, if he perseveres, will work here at St. Gertrude’s.

Our Seminarian in front of the sacristy entrance rings the bell to announce the scheduled events

The plans for the expansion project of the SGG rectory have been drawn, but the first cost estimate given was too high. So that our Oblate group can start to grow now, we need a place for them very soon. That’s why we are looking for a temporary home for them near the church. The only way to fully fund the rectory expansion now would be take a bank loan, and that would be irresponsible to do. Sacred Scripture says: “Rich rules poor, debtor must wait on creditor.” (Proverbs 22:7) One of the virtues a Catholic must have is frugality. That means prudent economy which expends nothing unnecessarily. The Word “frugal” comes from the Latin word frux, which means “fruit” or “value.” When English speakers adopted the word “frugal” by the 1500s, it had come to mean sparing and thrifty.

Frugality is a virtue which is greatly needed, not only in church rules, but in modern society in general. One American politician I like was Alf Landon, who was the Governor of Kansas in 1933-1937, and who was one of the last one of those times, when politicians were still persons of integrity and fidelity. When Governor Landon was appointed as the Republican nominee for President in 1936, he declared himself as the candidate of “honesty, frugality, courage and common sense.” In his later years he said that he belonged to the old lost tribe of frugality. He opposed credit cards, saying the use of those “is an incentive to people to spend more money than they should.”

Alf Landon and his three-year-old daughter Nancy. She later served as US Senator from Kansas in 1978-1997.

So that we can proceed with our rectory and Oblate plans, we need and rely on your support. At St. Gertrude’s, we have the second collection for our Oblate group on each first Sunday of the month. On our website we also have the fundraiser for our Sisters, so that we can have a home for them.

The annual retreat for the Oblate Sisters takes place at St. Gertrude the Great on August 7-9. The Oblate retreat is divided into two courses, one for our two Sisters who have made their final oblation, and the other for those who are to be introduced into religious life. The introductory part of the retreat is also meant to serve as a vocational retreat for those girls and young ladies who are thinking about a religious vocation as an Oblate Sister. If you are at least 17 years old, and attend St. Gertrude’s or one of our missions, you can contact me through the Oblate Sisters’ website and tell if you would like to attend.

Though our Oblate Sisters are not religious in the canonical sense of the word, because they do not take vows, the priests of St. Gertrude the Great take care of their spiritual needs dutifully, in the spirit of a religious order. This is because by their oblation they have become members of the parish family and helpers of priests in their apostolate. Canon 595 §1 legislates:

Let Superiors take care that all religious:

1) Undergo spiritual exercises each year;

2) Be present for Sacred rites each day, if they are not legitimately impeded, leave room for mental prayer, and apply themselves diligently in other offices of piety that are prescribed by the rule and constitutions;

3) Approach the sacrament of penance at least once a week.

The Sisters and I thank you for your support. Please remember our priests and Seminarians in your prayers.

Yours in the Charity of Christ and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart,

Fr. Vili Lehtoranta

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