We are international

Ministry Recap and Reflection - July 2005
By Father Phil Wallace

I graduated from University in 1960. At that time there was a lot of idealism and enthusiasm for people to go overseas to other parts of the world to serve others. The Peace Corps was in its early beginnings. I had a roommate in University who constantly talked about the need to serve others especially as a missionary priest. I had heard of Maryknoll when I was in high school and was familiar with the stories of the women and men of Maryknoll.

Near the end of my graduation from University in 1960, I wrote to Maryknoll asking what was involved in becoming a missionary priest. In September of 1960, I found myself at the major seminary in New York. I was beginning the journey to missionary priesthood.

In June of 1965 I was one of 52 priests ordained for Maryknoll. My hope and dream was to go to Africa as a missionary priest. I was assigned to the Africa region in the newly independent nation of Tanzania.

During my years with Maryknoll, I was asked to serve in vocation recruitment and mission education in Chicago, Seattle and Boston. I came to Seattle and was assigned to the Maryknoll residence on Capital Hill. l was stationed there until 1975. I was invited during my years in Seattle to join the Campus Ministry team at Seattle University. I came to know and develop a bond of friendship with the church in Western Washington. I loved the involvement with the students and still today have many deep and wonderful friendships that stretch back to those years in Campus Ministry.

In 1975, I left Seattle for Tanzania in East Africa. I was assigned to the diocese of Shinyanga. It was a difficult time for the nation. The charismatic president, Julius Nyrere, who at one time had taught Sqwahili at the Maryknoll language school, was promoting a new way of living for the people. His concept that involved people putting aside their independence and instead living together in small communities. It was called Ujamaa or African Socialism. It was a way of making water, health care and education available for large segments of the population. Fearing it was a brand of Communism, it was held suspect by many nations of the West. It received minimal support and finally came to an end. In my opinion, it truly reflected much more the biblical model of the early Christian communities that we read about in the Scriptures.

In Tanzania, my ministry mostly involved working with secondary students in a regional school as well as parish work. I credit most of my real formation to the people of Tanzania. They modeled for me, in so many ways, the importance of every single person. I learned that despite suffering and hardship, there is much to be grateful for. They are a people of peace and joy who taught me that we are indeed all brothers and sisters. They also taught me the truth of the scripture challenge to ‘light a single candle’ and dispel the darkness.

Maryknoll assigned me to Boston in 1980 to help establish a Center for Justice Concerns. I had the privilege of working with Sister Maura Clark, one of the Maryknoll Sisters who was murdered in El Salvador. The death of Sister Maura and her companions and the death of so many innocent people in El Salvador by the military that was being supported by the government of the U.S. made our ministry of working for peace and justice very vital. In some small ways, with the efforts of so many organizations and individuals, I think we helped change the stance of the U.S. towards the carnage that was taking place throughout Central America.

In 1983, I was ready for a sabbatical. Instead of going off to school, I asked if my sabbatical experience could be working in a parish in the U.S. It was my hope that this could be with the people and the church of Western Washington. I admired the leadership of Archbishop Hunthausen and I had many deep friendships with many priests and lay people in the Seattle Archdiocese. Maryknoll granted my wish and Archbishop Hunthausen welcomed me and asked me to pastor the parish of St. Francis. That one year assignment to the parish of St. Francis evolved into a 15 year assignment as pastor of that parish community. As in all of my other assignments, the people of St. Francis showed me how to be a pastor. I developed a deep love and friendship with the people of St. Francis.

In 1990, I went through the formal process of becoming a member of the Archdiocese of Seattle. At about the same time, I also opted for U.S. citizenship and now enjoy the best of both worlds. In 1998, I went on a sabbatical for six months to study in Chicago. While there, I was asked to take a new assignment on my return to Seattle. The new assignment was as pastor of St .Louise Parish in Bellevue. I came to St. Louise, older but with some experience, and perhaps a bit wiser. A deep bond of faith and friendship has developed for me with the parish staff and the community at St. Louise. I am so very grateful for these past seven years in this faith community.

In the year 2001 in March, soon after an earthquake rocked the area, I was diagnosed with a cancer called Multiple Myelmo and it rocked my life. I became very ill over the next six months. The support of the people of St. Francis and St. Louise together with wonderful medical people and great family support have helped restore me to health. I am presently enjoying great health and healing with my cancer in remission.

I am so grateful for these “extra inning years.” I am in many ways grateful for the experience of cancer. It has made me much more conscious of the gift of life and the fragility of our lives. It has also taught me how great and wonderful is the support and the prayers of family and friends. The experience of cancer has also been key in trying to understand and support others who struggle with sickness and disease.

I have enjoyed serving for four years as a member of the Board of Trustees of Eastside Catholic High and for three years serving on the Board of Trustees of Catholic Community Services and for this past year serving as the Dean for the parishes on the Eastside.

This year on the 12th. of June, I gathered with Maryknoll classmates to celebrate and give thanks for 40 years of ministry and service to the people of God both here at home and around the world. It was powerful to stand shoulder to shoulder with Maryknoll Missioners celebrating 25, 40, 60 and even 65 years of ministry many of whom are ‘giants of the faith’ truly, "the greatest generation."

As I look to the future, I have mixed feelings. I want to do new things, I want to get to know and spend time with nephews and nieces and their children who live in various places in the U.S. and Canada. I want to spend more time with my sisters and brother. I want to renew friendships from years gone by. I want to have new experiences in ministry. This fills me with excitement but I know that I will miss very much the daily involvement in parish ministry with the staff and the community and in a special way with the youth and young families.

My initial plan is to complete my ministry here at St. Louise at the end of August. In September, together with my niece Patty, we will journey to East Africa. We have as our goal to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, hopefully to the summit of the peak called Uhuru. Kilimanjaro stands tall at 19,400 feet. It is often called "the roof of Africa." We want to do this together. Why you may ask? Not just because it's there, but it represents a bold new step forward. In doing the climb, I hope to raise awareness and funds to support Multiple Myeloma research. I plan to also visit some of my old stomping ground in Tanzania. I have also been invited to do some ministry retreats in Uganda.

I expect to be back in the Northwest in November and help out "as needed" at our parish of St. Louise. Next spring, I will join a Maryknoll program, teaching English as a second language to college students in mainland China. I want to also be a weekly volunteer at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

I am not sure what will come after this but I have learned not to live too far into the future. Instead I value each and every moment and experience and above all value the people.

In looking back over these 40 years, I feel nothing but a deep sense of gratitude to my parents and family for helping me grow and develop as a person of faith. I have an unending gratitude for all those who have taught me that we are all sisters and brother and God loves us all. I am thankful for the many ways people have allowed me to be a priest and missioner and together with them build the Kingdom of God in our midst.

 related articles