Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Different Kind of Diocese: Baker

The Diocese of Baker has some peculiarities, I think, that make it very different from most of the dioceses of the US.

First of all, let me re-visit a current issue concerning the Cathedral: the fact that the upcoming ordination of Fr. Liam Cary as our new bishop is scheduled to occur at the new St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bend, rather than at the Cathedral, where it should rightfully be held (even though Bishop Robert F. Vasa was ordained at a county fairgrounds near Bend). I wrote more extensively about all this here and here.

In response to the news that our next episcopal ordination will be held in Bend, one Baker City parishioner emailed me the following note:

Why don't they either move the Cathedral to Bend, or have the Mass in Baker? It bugs me that we are a half-way Cathedral.


Another parishioner made this pertinent observation:

Okey dokey! Guess we are no longer the see, hm!

Yes, it’s beginning to look that way.

St. Francis de Sales Cathedral is in Baker City, in the northeast corner of Oregon, close to the Idaho border – it’s kind of a long way from anywhere, even if the freeway (I-84) does run through it. In 1985, the chancery office was moved to Bend, which is more centrally located, both regarding the population center of the diocese and the population of the state. The bishop generally celebrates Christmas and Easter at the Cathedral, and until recently, all diaconate and priestly ordinations were held there, too. However, the ordination of Fr. Joseph Levine took place in September 2010 at the new St. Francis of Assisi church in Bend.

Travel really is an issue for us because geographically, the diocese is quite large: 66,826 square miles. But the number of Catholics is small: 37,000 – a little over 7% of the general population. So we have a relatively small population of Catholics (34,375) spread out over a wide geographic area.

The diocese consists of 30-something parishes, and many of those have only one priest. Some of the parishes also include little mission churches in outlying areas, requiring additional travel for the priest – usually many miles and hours of driving. In parishes with a mission or two, the priest ends up saying quite a few Masses per weekend.

There’s only one parish per city or town, too, with the exception of Klamath Falls, which has two (plus an SSPX chapel, but that’s something we don’t want to talk about…shhh!). Bend is the home of the largest parish in the diocese, St. Francis of Assisi (and there’s a CMRI chapel in the next city, Redmond, where a few of those who are disenfranchised by the squelching of our monthly EF Mass have been known to seek refuge).

There is no other church in the diocese that can hold a candle to the Cathedral, of course.
 (Go here, to what is probably one of the best parish websites in the country, for great photos, history, etc.) The cathedral is supposed to be the mother church of the diocese, and is to be an example to the rest of the parishes. And yet, the travel necessary to get there from the more populated areas anywhere is forcing it into retirement, it seems. [Speaking of retirement, that’s another characteristic of the Baker City parish: due to economic downturns and loss of industry (mostly timber), it’s hard to find a good family-supporting job in this area; that means we don’t have a high proportion of young families with children.]

The annual Chrism Mass continues to be held at the Cathedral, but it’s really not well-attended. Baker City is a 5-hour drive from the Chancery in Bend, and the next-closest parish is 45 minutes away. Despite the travel involved, though, there have been years when there were more out-of-towners than locals in attendance at the Chrism Mass. I have never quite figured out the reason for the apparent lack of interest in that event at the local level.

A few years ago, a few faithful women started a “Women’s Chrism Mass Retreat” where they spent the week of the Chrism Mass praying for the bishop and the priests of the diocese. The first few years, they held that retreat in Baker City, since the Chrism Mass would take place there (and it takes place the week before Holy Week, due to the travel involved). In recent years, though, the retreat has been held at the Diocesan Retreat Center near Bend, a 5-hour drive from Baker City. Some of the retreatants then make the pilgrimage to the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass.

So why this lack of interest in the Cathedral of our diocese?

It’s just too darn inconvenient to the rest of the diocese, I guess.

But that doesn’t explain the apathy of the local parishioners. For them, I think there’s been a lack of catechesis concerning the importance of the Cathedral as the mother church of the diocese, especially over the last 5-7 years. There’s also a lack of catechesis at the Diocesan level, though I must admit that a recent edition of the Diocesan Chronicle does have an article that highlights the Cathedral, in conjunction with the Chrism Mass and women’s retreat for that event. This is a rare occurrence, though.

No one ever points to the Cathedral as an example of liturgical excellence, as a model for other parishes to follow (well, okay, the rector often tells us that “visitors say we have beautiful liturgies”, but, really, that is not a valid measure of whether or not the liturgy follows the rubrics. It probably means the visitor’s favorite song was sung). The Cathedral is beautiful, but so much more could be done to make it a model for other parishes to follow: a nice antependium on the altar instead of the usual white bed sheet with a floral arrangement in front of it (even in Lent!); male altar servers with cassock and surplice instead of mostly females with frumpy, hooded, seven-dwarves-type albs; a choir singing from the choir loft instead of the sanctuary; use of the magnificent organ the Cathedral boasts but which has remained silent for several years now. And how about a little Gregorian chant now and then?! (I’m not counting the occasional chant recording played from a little cassette player placed on the altar during Holy Communion at the Saturday evening Mass; now there’s liturgical excellence…NOT.)

Nor is the Cathedral touted by the diocese as a place to which one might want to make a pilgrimage. There’s no diocesan-wide hoopla over the anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral because: a) the bishop never celebrates it there, and b) no one seems to be sure when it should be celebrated!

In short, it would be ever so nice to see some respect paid to the Cathedral, across the diocese, but especially in the parish. It would be nice for the people to be educated as to what the Cathedral stands for, and for the parishioners to once again understand their responsibility to be the role model for other parish churches. It would be nice if we could return to the sense that it is a privilege and a duty for the Cathedral parish to host important events like ordinations.

I’m afraid, though, that the Cathedral parish is about to lose all this permanently…and the parishioners will not even know what they’ve lost.

1 comment:

  1. From a practical perspective it seems that since the bulk of the population is in central Oregon rather than eastern Oregon it is only a matter of time until the Aztec handball court in Bend becomes the Cathedral and St Francis de Sales in Baker becomes the former Cathedral. That sort of thing has happened in many other places.

    However! St Francis de Sales is, at present, the Cathedral and in my opinion all liturgies more properly celebrated at the Cathedral (ordinations being but one, a very important one) should continue to be celebrated in the Cathedral. Just one more issue for the Bishop-elect to resolve.


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