So long, Father Steve
Portland is losing a great man this week. Father Steve Bossi, outgoing pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Southeast Porland, says his last Mass at that church tonight at 7 before driving off to his new assignment in Washington, D.C.
Try as he might to shrug it off, Father Steve has become something of a living legend in his eight years at St. Philip Neri. At a time when many in the priesthood have so disappointed Catholics and non-Catholics alike, he has stood as a beacon of what a good priest is capable of. An inspirational spiritual leader as well as a masterful administrator, he has excelled in his priority areas of education, liturgy, evangelism, and most interestingly, social justice. In keeping with the mission of Father Steve's religious order, the Paulist Fathers, the parish has brought many lapsed Catholics back into the church by fostering an atmosphere of welcome, understanding, and respect. A fair number of the churchgoers there probably would stay home rather than worship anywhere else. The rest of the Catholic Church could learn a lot from the example that he and the parish have set.
The good news is that Bossi is heading off to become the "director of formation" for the Paulists -- the go-to guy who will work to instill the right values in the young men who are finding their way toward becoming priests in that order. If just a little of Father Steve rubs off on these fellows, the world will benefit from it for decades.
Then there's the personal side of the man, which a goodly number of us parishioners strive, consciously or unconsciously, to emulate. He's a walking list of virtues, and it's very real. So often as you sit there listening to him, you wonder, "Wow, what's a brilliant man like this doing in this job? The message he's trying to convey must be really worthwhile and important." That kind of personal charisma is an instrument of grace.
Sharing this weekend of celebrations is another fantastic Paulist, Father Ricky Manalo, who served a memorable term as assistant pastor under Father Steve before spending the last year studying in China. Among many other talents, Father Ricky is a composer whose stunningly direct hymns are among the best that get sung in the church. This morning's Mass started with "The God of All Grace." When the composer of the hymn is standing quietly in the back of the church as the congregation sings it with feeeling, well, that's just cool.
Although Father Steve will be capably succeeded by Father Rich Colgan, it seems like there's going to be a large hole to fill. Then again, the outgoing pastor reminded me quite a while back that being in a parish is not so much about one's connection with the pastor as it is about one's connection with the rest of the parishioners. Can the people of St. Philip Neri keep everything rolling? Like so many other things I've heard Father Steve say, I believe we can do it.
But we'll still miss him.