October 18, 2008
Salvatorians celebrating 50 years of ministry in diocese
By Denise MacLachlan
Salvatorian Father Thomas Perrin, left, parochial vicar of Divine Savior Parish in Orangevale, greets a parishioner following a recent weekday morning Mass at the church. Salvatorian priests have staffed the parish since its establishment in 1987. Cathy Joyce/Herald photo
In more than 50 years of service in the Sacramento Diocese, members of the Society of the Divine Savior have seen their ministries evolve from running the diocese’s minor seminary to ministering to youth and running parishes.
In the last 20 years, Salvatorians have also taken on the task of helping in the formation of lay members, to create a Salvatorian family of priests, sisters, brothers and laypeople who work together in the religious order’s charism.
Currently Salvatorian priests staff Divine Savior Parish in Orangevale. Father Roman Mueller is the pastor and Father Thomas Perrin serves as parochial vicar. A third Salvatorian priest in residence, Father Dennis Thiessen, teaches theology at Jesuit High School in Carmichael.
The parish also includes another 25 lay Salvatorians, according to Father Perrin.
“Our founder, Father Francis Jordan, originally wanted an institute that actively involved the laity in spreading the knowledge of our Savior,” Father Perrin said in a recent interview.
“He was a little ahead of his time in the 1880s. But now, the lay Salvatorians and the Salvatorian priests, sisters and brothers are part of the same community that makes the Gospel known by all ways and means.”
Salvatorians have been making the Gospel known in the Sacramento Diocese since the 1950s. The ways and means have taken different forms over the decades to meet changing pastoral needs.
In response to the increased demand for priests and the surge in vocations in the United States after World War II, and with the support of Bishop Robert J. Armstrong, the Salvatorians opened a seminary in the diocese in 1955, explained Salvatorian Father Michael Newman, who taught at the seminary in the 1960s.
Father Newman, who is retired after nearly 40 years of active ministry in the diocese, now lives in Chico and assists with Masses at Our Divine Savior Parish in Chico, the Newman Catholic Community in Sacramento, and St. Dominic Parish in Orland.
St. Pius X Minor Seminary opened it doors in September 1955 to 23 high school student seminarians in Humboldt County, then part of the Sacramento Diocese, near the town of Rio Dell, Father Newman said. Graduates from the seminary usually went on to become Sacramento diocesan priests, although some became Salvatorian priests or brothers.
Waiting lists for places in the minor seminary required the opening of an adjunct day seminary in Sacramento to accommodate Sacramento-area students. By 1958, the seminarian classes had become too large for even the main seminary near Rio Dell. St. Pius X Minor Seminary relocated to Galt in 1961, housing 200 students a year, and shaping a generation of Sacramento diocesan priests and Salvatorian priests and brothers until its closure in 1977.
In the first two decades after the war, minor seminaries — six-year schools that taught a high-school curriculum and the first two years of college — were standard, Father Newman noted. After graduation from the minor seminary, young men would go on to six years in the major seminary, where they would complete a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before embarking on the four years of theological studies required for ordination as a priest.
But in the late 1960s, he observed, enrollments were declining in minor seminaries across the United States, including at St. Pius X.
The minor seminary’s downsizing and closure did not stop the Salvatorians’ mission of bringing the Gospel to all people by all ways and means, as the priests and brothers at the seminary responded to communities’ changing needs by taking on new ministries.
The diocese entrusted Holy Cross Parish in West Sacramento to the Salvatorians in 1967, where they served for nearly 40 years before withdrawing in 2005. Several faculty members from St. Pius X Seminary were pastors at Holy Cross, including Salvatorian Fathers Robert Caspar, Richard Gagnon, George Schuster, John Kouba, and Chad Puthoff, according to Father Newman. Salvatorians also served at St. Thomas More Parish in Paradise and St. John the Baptist Parish in Chico.
"Lay Salvatorians make a lifetime commitment to living an exemplary, Christ-filled life in our lay state. We enhance our baptismal commitments of serving others, and we agree to do that in our everyday jobs."
— Ken Drake, vice director and western sector representative of the national board of lay Salvatorians
After the seminary’s closure, Salvatorians made a point of ministering to youth, Father Newman said. They taught at St. Francis High School, Loretto High School and Jesuit High School. Salvatorian Brother Stephen Palmer ministered to diocesan youth at Camp Pendola.
Father Newman worked in youth ministry through the diocese’s Catholic Youth Organization and as director of the Newman Catholic Centers in Sacramento and Chico.
But they also served wherever the need arose and they could address it. Salvatorian Father John Kouba worked in the diocese’s Hispanic ministry, and Father Victor McEvoy served as chaplain of Sutter hospitals. Father Schuster, who taught at St Pius X, served as pastor of Holy Cross and taught at St. Francis High School, and also was editor of The Catholic Herald from 1985 until his unexpected death in 1992.
Even as the Salvatorians responded to the changing needs of the diocese they served, they also responded to the Second Vatican Council’s call to transform themselves.
In the 1970s, religious communities were encouraged to reexamine the spirit of their respective founders and then implement that spirit in their contemporary orders, Father Newman said. The Salvatorians implemented the spirit of Father Jordan’s intention by encouraging lay people to be involved in apostolates with the Salvatorians. This effort made its way to Sacramento in the 1980s with the formation of the Lay Salvatorians.
Ken Drake, vice director and western sector representative of the national board of lay Salvatorians, joined the order as a lay member in 1987, “as soon as I knew the program existed,” he said. Drake and his wife, Mickey, who is also a lay Salvatorian, had known Salvatorians when they were growing up, and were drawn to the Salvatorian charism.
“Lay Salvatorians make a lifetime commitment to living an exemplary, Christ-filled life in our lay state,” Drake said in an interview. “We enhance our baptismal commitments of serving others, and we agree to do that in our everyday jobs.”
The formation of lay Salvatorians is a three-year process, Drake explained, created by a board of Salvatorian priests, sisters, brothers and lay members. The program is essentially the same for the lay people and the professed religious, he said, except that the lay Salvatorians live in their own homes.
Still, the interaction between the laity and the professed religious is frequent and steady, with all of the members of the Salvatorian family meeting once a month as a community and working together in various ministries. There are currently more than 2,750 Salvatorians worldwide, many of them lay Salvatorians collaborating with the professed religious.
At Divine Savior Parish, all 25 lay Salvatorians are actively involved in ministry, said parishioner and lay Salvatorian Rita Whitmore, the contact person at the parish for those interested in learning more about the Salvatorian family. But there are at least 63 active ministries at the parish altogether, according to the most recent ministries list.
“It’s the spirit of our founder, Father Jordan, to encourage all people to participate in evangelization,” Father Perrin said, “and at Divine Savior Parish we encourage everyone to carry out a ministry.”