Oblate Highlights: Fr. Pat Casey, OMI
Father Pat Casey, OMI, was inspired to become a priest while living in a hell on earth. For 13 months Fr. Pat was a medic on the frontlines of the Vietnam War. He worked in a mobile hospital that was the target of attacks by suicide bombers. He rappelled out of helicopters to reach the injured on the battlefields, stabilizing their injuries until they could be airlifted to a hospital.
It was during the war that Fr. Pat gathered strength from the Catholic priests who accompanied him on his missions. The compassion and concern they showed to the wounded and dying helped inspire Fr. Pat to become a priest.
“I was 28 years old when I joined the Oblates,” said Fr. Pat. “It took a while for me to get things sorted out.”
Father Pat was born in Los Angeles to Irish immigrants. His dad had a colorful past, stowing away on an American-bound freighter at the age of 13. Custom officials tried to send the young man back to Ireland, but Catholic nuns stepped in and arranged for him to live with a family in New Jersey.
As a child, Fr. Pat worked in the family businesses, a group of flower and gift shops and a catering company. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at UCLA with the desire to become a doctor. Then came his draft notice.
Although Fr. Pat returned from Vietnam without any physical wounds, mentally it took time to recover from the trauma. He had flashbacks to the battlefield, and suffered many sleepless nights.
After the war Fr. Pat worked for three years as a physician’s assistant in Los Angeles and then Omaha, Nebraska. In Omaha, he met the Oblates and the thought of religious life, which he had considered as a youth, was rekindled.
Father Pat traded the battlefields of Vietnam for the battlefields of the inner cities. Much of his early ministries involved working in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States.
In St. Louis he was Pastor at Holy Guardian Angels located in the Peabody housing projects. During one Mass he was threatened by a man demanding money. Later Fr. Pat would minister at Oblate parishes in Chicago. One day as he conducted a funeral service for a young man, two gang members came to the church and murdered the child’s father as he prayed.
After six years in Chicago, Fr. Pat accepted an assignment in a totally different world – rural Alaska. For three years he ministered in the communities of Wrangell (population 2,400), Petersburg (population 2,900) and Kake (population 546). He then accepted an assignment as Rector for the Cathedral Parish of Juneau where he continues to serve today.
While the surrounding may be vastly different, Fr. Pat said the people of Alaska, especially Natives, suffer many of the same hardships that his parishioners faced in the inner cities.
Alcoholism, poor nutrition, suicide and drug addiction (in particular heroin) plague many of the Native communities in Alaska. Father Pat said there is also a lack of positive role models for male teenagers, with elders having to serve as the main positive influence in the lives of their grandchildren.
Another obstacle faced in Alaska is a lack of technology in many schools and parishes. Some places do not have Internet access, relying instead of walkie-talkies. Father Pat has been active in recent years in getting the diocese’s technology up to speed.
Father Pat is also active in programs to protect the environment. He and other Church representatives advocate on behalf of the environment as industries such as lumber, mining and oil look to take advantage of vast natural resources.
“Alaska is a phenomenal place, but it is also a place of great risk because of what is being done to the environment,” said Fr. Pat.
Phenomenal and risk, two words that describe Alaska, and the life of Fr. Pat Casey. Whether he is jumping out of helicopters, standing up to gang members or serving as a role model to troubled youth, Fr. Pat has spent a lifetime taking risks, and creating a phenomenal legacy of compassion and love.
Original story & images provided by Mike Viola at Missionary Associates of Mary Immaculate.