'It’s been quite a vocation’

  • Written by Rich Kaipust
  • Published in NW Stories
Photo: Karie Hamilton Photo: Karie Hamilton

A priest for more than six decades, ‘retired’ Father Steve Roman maintains active in ministry to Grays Harbor parishes

The drive between Aberdeen and Ocean Shores can be a little tricky sometimes, but Father Steve Roman is among the motorists navigating a two-lane highway full of turns and even the occasional Sunday-morning traffic.

And when he’s trying to get back from 9 a.m. Mass at St. Mary Parish in Aberdeen to the 11 a.m. Mass at his home parish of St. Jerome in Ocean Shores, it can be a tight window.

“It’s about a 45-minute drive for me,” Father Roman said. “In the summertime there can be a lot of campers, logging trucks, some added traffic … but I just get in line and follow the leader. I’ve only been late twice in 12 years.”

Father Roman never thinks twice about making the trip, never thinks about how his life might be easier with a lighter workload.

Even at 89.

“He doesn’t know how to say no, which concerns me sometimes,” said Johnnie Mc Dermott, a parishioner at St. Jerome. “I’m turning 70, and I have a hard time keeping up with him.”

Father Roman long ago “retired,” but he remains among many senior priests in the Archdiocese of Seattle who still find plenty to do. More than two decades since first coming to Grays Harbor County (at St. Paul Parish in Westport) he is happy to be giving everything he has to offer.

“I don’t mind getting older and staying in the saddle, but I just think there’s no other job around like being a priest,” said Father Roman, who has been a priest for more than 60 years. “And I am willing to help out. That’s what I was ordained for. I could retire and back off, but I don’t want to.”

Father Roman never takes it for granted that he has managed to fight off Father Time. But knowing that some senior priests in the archdiocese are not as fortunate, he has supported the Called to Serve as Christ campaign from the start.

Goals for the campaign include raising $40 million for the priest pension plan and $15 million for the medical needs of senior priests; other funds raised will benefit women religious and individual parishes.

Father Roman has made his home at St. Jerome, where he lives in an annex attached to the back of the church. Located in a beach community, St. Jerome is a “vacation church,” parishioner Denise Siers said, so Father Roman is always extending warm greetings to visitors.

“And for us parishioners, Father Steve is a daily blessing, providing us with spiritual guidance,” Siers said. “He radiates the light of Christ.”

Each time her rosary group meets, Siers said, the members pray for Father Roman’s health, “in thanks for what he does for our parish and how he’s touched each of us personally.”

Father Steve RomanFather Steve Roman greets parishioners at St. Jerome Church in Ocean Shores, where he remains in active ministry at age 89. Photo: Karie Hamilton

A busy ministry schedule

Father Roman’s busy schedule might challenge even a younger colleague.

Each weekend starts with a 5 p.m. Saturday Mass at St. Jerome. If Father Roman needs to go to Aberdeen and back the next morning, he jokes there’s one necessity: “I can’t give long homilies.”

When needed, he will also go all the way around the bay to St. Paul in Westport, or help at Our Lady of the Olympics Mission in Amanda Park or Our Lady of Good Help Parish in Hoquiam.

At St. Jerome, Father Roman also celebrates weekday Masses, along with regularly hearing confessions and presiding at some weddings and funerals. He makes stops at an   assisted living facility, but in recent years he has cut back some ministry at hospitals and a nearby state penitentiary, leaving those visits to younger priests.

Father Roman feels his years from time to time, admitting he can be a bit forgetful. Once an avid golfer, he gave up the game several years back.

But the day-to-day ministry goes on without much interruption.

“I have no complaints,” he said. “I’ll stay here as long as they let me. If they say, ‘Hey, Steve, thanks, but we notice you’re slowing down’ … I’d say, ‘OK.’”

“I just feel that God has blessed me, and still blesses me, with good health,” he said. “And as long as I have good health, I’m willing to do what I can.”

‘Happy in my life as a priest’

When the time comes to step back, Father Roman would like to remain in a parish home somewhere and find a way to stay involved — perhaps in the Grays Harbor area, which he has grown to appreciate.

When he was first assigned to St. Paul, Father Roman used to make the one-mile walk to the Westport beach three times a week for exercise. He remembers picking up white rocks along the way and bringing them back to add to the church landscape.

“Young priests have told me, ‘If I was down here, I couldn’t stand it,’” he said. “Some like the big city, want to be in the metropolitan area. Coming here, I didn’t mind.”

Father Steve RomanFather Steve Roman’s “retired” ministry includes saying Mass at Grays Harbor parishes, hearing confessions and visiting residents of an assisted living facility. Photo: Karie Hamilton

Through his decades of priesthood, Father Roman said he’s always been about the next assignment when one comes to an end. Just tell him where to go and what to do. It was no different back in 1996.

Just a shade over 65, Father Roman had come off a year with Father Jarlath Heneghan at Holy Rosary Parish in Edmonds when he first wondered what was ahead. He fell back on a simple lesson he’d learned through the years: “Trust in God’s love and goodness.”

As things played out, it was hardly a week before he received a welcome call. Help was needed in Westport and the surrounding area. Never mind that Father Roman had never been to that part of the state or that he was initially told it would only be a 12-month assignment.

“They were very emphatic about it, holding up one finger: ‘One year. One year,’” Father Roman said. “To make a long story short, I’m here now going on 22 years.”

In some ways it all started at O’Dea High School in the 1940s, where Father Roman said he “lived like a seminarian.” He had given up sports to focus on a religious life, attending Mass every morning, saying the rosary daily and observing a holy hour every Saturday.

After attending St. Edward Seminary, the priesthood took him across the state before bringing him to Grays Harbor.

“There are times I cried myself to sleep over parishioners,” Father Roman said. “But for all I’ve been through over 61 years already — for all the hardships and setbacks and everything else — I’ve never been more happy in my life as a priest.”

“I’m certainly so indebted to other priests, bishops, our people. … It’s been quite a vocation.” 

Northwest Catholic - November 2018