Sarah Wolf/Catholic SentinelFr. Joseph Barita stands under the tower at his parish in Seaside, Our Lady of Victory. The Tanzanian priest first came to Oregon to minister in parishes in 2004.
Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel
Fr. Joseph Barita stands under the tower at his parish in Seaside, Our Lady of Victory. The Tanzanian priest first came to Oregon to minister in parishes in 2004.
SEASIDE — It’s a beautiful day at Our Lady of Victory Parish, just blocks from the sandy Oregon coastline. Holy Spirit Father Joseph Barita is joyful as he talks about his time in Oregon. He likes the weather and the wonderful people. The priest came to the Archdiocese of Portland in 2004, sent from Tanzania by his religious order to minister in parishes here.

Father Barita has served as the pastor at St. Birgitta Parish in Portland, St. Frederic Parish in St. Helens and as parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in Portland. Before coming to Our Lady of Victory, he was helping build a spiritual center in Usa River, Tanzania.

Father Barita is not the first Holy Spirit priest from Tanzania at Our Lady of Victory. Just last year, the parish saw the departure of Holy Spirit Father Nicholas Nilema. Father Nilema and Father Barita have a long history together. The pair grew up at the same parish in Tanzania. They attended the same primary school, the same seminary and were ordained the same day.

And when Father Nilema departed Our Lady of Victory after being called by his order back to his homeland, he returned to help complete the Usa River spiritual center that Father Barita had been working on.

Fathers Nilema and Barita have served the Archdiocese of Portland through their order, the Apostolic Life Community of Priests Holy Spirit Fathers. This is not the only order that provides parishes in the archdiocese with priests. There currently are 33 religious priests assigned to 21 parishes in the archdiocese.

Some religious orders have long histories here — some, like the Jesuits, have longer histories in Oregon than the archdiocese itself. Others were invited by the archbishop at the time the order first arrived. Some had members who were friends with priests in the archdiocese. And others took the initiative to ask to send priests to Oregon.

“It’s really kind of a relational, historical and also organic process,” says Father Todd Molinari, vicar for clergy for the Archdiocese of Portland.
Many parishes around the archdiocese are in the care of religious orders like the Apostolic Life Community of Priests and the Jesuits, while other order priests are simply placed in parishes at the request of the archbishop.

When a parish is in the care of a religious order, that order will assign a priest to serve at the parish with permission from the archbishop. This is the case for Domus Dei Clerical Society of Apostolic Life, which serves at Our Lady of Lavang Parish in Northeast Portland. Domus Dei Father Ansgar Pham is pastor.

Father Pham came to the United States from Vietnam in 1991 after being persecuted for his father’s work for the U.S. government. The family found their way to Portland when Father Pham was 26. Father Pham studied at Mount Angel Seminary after moving to Oregon but originally had joined a Chinese religious order. He says it was God’s will and providence that brought him to Domus Dei and to minister at Our Lady of Lavang.

He is glad to be able to serve a community that he is a part of — those who fled or descend from those who have fled persecution in Vietnam.
“I really appreciate my community and the Archdiocese of Portland,” says Father Pham.

Not many Vietnamese priests get to serve the Vietnamese people, he says. And it’s a gift that he is able to relate to his Vietnamese congregation not only through language but also through culture.

This is no accident. International priests often minister in the archdiocese because they have a cultural understanding and speak the primary language of a given community. But it’s not always just culture that brings them here. Sometimes it’s the spiritual gifts of the order or of a priest that an archbishop perceives as necessary.

“We have discerned with the individual priests, as well as the community as a whole that has sent or missioned their priests to the archdiocese, that they and whatever particular gifts they have as a community or as individuals serve a very vital, essential need,” says Father Molinari.
But it does depend on the priest and the community, he notes.

“The fact that they’ve been invited and that they are here is the consequence of a lengthy process and dialogue between the community, the priest and the archdiocese based on how their skills, their gifts and their charisms can serve the concrete needs of the people of God in western Oregon,” says Father Molinari.

Religious orders have always served an essential role in archdiocesan life. The archdiocese couldn’t do it without them, says the vicar.
Priests who come to the United States from abroad are not only limited to those belonging to religious orders. Others come to the archdiocese from another diocese to serve as externs for a specific amount of time. Some come intending to incardinate — or become a priest for — this archdiocese. If this is of interest to the priest, then he contacts the Portland archbishop or vicar of clergy to begin that conversation.

The most recent example is Father Michael Jeeva Antony, who left his order, the St. Francis Xavier Missionaries based in Goa, India, to incardinate with the Archdiocese of Portland.

The Catholic Sentinel reported in February that Father Antony felt called to serve in Oregon. He now is administrator of St. Peter and St. Mark parishes in Eugene.

Historically, men also could apply to be seminarians for the Archdiocese of Portland from overseas. But this is no longer a policy. The archdiocesan vocations team instead is directing attention to local vocations from the archdiocese’s various ethnic communities.

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