The numbers speak volumes about the Rev. Seamus Laverty and the impact he made at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Tacoma.
In his 20 years as the priest there, Laverty baptized 1,240 children, offered 1,148 First Holy Communions, led 840 confirmations, presided over 378 weddings, performed 648 funerals and celebrated countless Masses.
At the end of June, he said goodbye and retired. Three parish priests and a pastoral coordinator will replace him, under a new leadership model announced by the Seattle archbishop.
“This faith community has been so life giving and beautiful to me,” Laverty said. “I will miss it, but I have been struggling with retirement for the last five years, and I am 70 years old, and it's time to move on.”
He’ll stay in Tacoma for at least a year. In August, he will attend his mother’s 99th birthday party in Newry, County Down, Ireland. He’s an 11-handicap golfer (yes, he has played Chambers Bay and attended the U.S. Open) and will continue to work on his game.
Beyond that, he’s not too sure.
Like the homing pigeons he raised as a boy in Ireland, Laverty said: “I need to get up in the air away from home and get my bearings. I’ve been released. I’ll fly around a little bit to see what exactly it is I want to do or where home is going to be.”
Laverty sat down Friday for an interview with The News Tribune. Here are some excerpts.
When did you come to the U.S.?
In 1976, the year of the bicentennial. It was a good year to come.
After serving at four parishes in Ireland, what brought you here?
You could look at it in one of two ways. It was either providential or accidental. I like to think of it as providential. I came with a priest friend who was transferring from Ireland to the United States. He was going down to the San Diego Dioceses. His brother was the pastor of St. John Bosco in Lakewood. So I came out with Leo and his brother and after we spent a month here, Leo went on down to San Diego as planned and I was supposed to go home. One day Father Ed, Leo’s brother, said, “Why don’t you stay?” I’d really never thought about staying in America. I had a very sleepless night, needless to say, and I thought about it, and I decided that I would stay. I was 30 years of age then.
When and why did you decide to become a priest?
I was probably 12 or 13 when I felt called. It started when I was sent off to boarding school at the age of 10 along with my brother, who was a year older than me. The school was in a Dominican college in Newbridge, County Kildare. I met a very inspirational Dominican priest, Father Tony Delaney. It was because of his mentoring, and his example, and just his spiritual demeanor, that I felt like I wanted to be like him. So that was the beginning of it.
What do you see on the horizon for the Catholic faith?
It is growing, but I think the biggest challenge the church is facing today is the lack of vocations to the priesthood. That is the challenge: How do we get new people to commit to seminary? I really think that if the church is going to get enough priests they have to look at models of priesthood without the requirement of celibacy. Maybe as a way to encourage some of our younger people and even some of our middle-aged and older people could become priests. For example, married men who might feel called to be priests. I think celibacy should be optional. If someone wants to choose celibacy, then by all means have them do so, but I don’t think it should be compulsory.
Do you believe we are entering a post-Christian society?
Well it looks like that, I suppose, at the present time. I think that there will always be good in people. The goodness always bubbles up, and as long as it continues to bubble up there will always be that spiritual dimension. I think the church has a place and can help people maintain that important focus on spirituality.
Your fellow Tacoma priest, Father Bill Bichsel, was known as an activist leader and a Christian who followed his conscience. With Bichsel’s death this year, are there other leaders like him emerging in Tacoma?
Father Bill Bichsel was a Jesuit and a part of the Catholic worker movement here in Tacoma. He was a peace activist, and he lived his whole life in that vein. I always looked at Bichsel as being a little different, somewhat unique in the sense that he was like a prophet in a way. And prophets are not popular people. They never have been and they never will be because their message annoys people, and challenges people. All of us are prophets, but there is no one like Bill right now. That void hasn’t been filled yet, but someone else will come along and fill that. It may not be a priest; it may be a significant lay person.
Who will sing the Irish tunes during the St. Patrick Day celebration now that you have retired?
Well, there is nobody in the parish as Irish as I am, and I don’t think anyone would know the songs like I know them. So no, I don’t think there is anybody.
What makes you most proud about St. Patrick’s and its people in your time there?
It doesn’t always follow that when a pastor arrives at a church that he is welcomed warmly. Sometimes he is welcomed in a guarded kind of fashion. And I have been in lot of parishes over the years. But when I came here back in 1995, I have never ever been as warmly accepted by a community as I was here at St. Patrick’s. I felt like when I walked through the front door that I was home. And that’s the way it has always been for the last 20 years. I’ve always felt loved and cared for and cherished by this community. These have been the best years of my life. I believe that God saved the best for last.
David Anderson: (253) 597-8670