‘The Old Man and the Kid’

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Parishioners at St. Andrew Church in Eagle River have their pastoral needs met through a unique partnership between a retired archbishop and a priest he ordained just a year-and-a-half ago.

Upon stepping down as archbishop of Anchorage on Nov. 9, Archbishop Roger Schwietz assumed full-time parish work at St. Andrew’s. His partner in ministry is Father Arthur Roraff.

The seeds of this arrangement began about 16 years ago, when the two men first crossed paths.

At that time, Archbishop Schwietz was the newly appointed archbishop of Anchorage. Young Roraff was a 33-year-old business entrepreneur heading up an event-planning company. In 2000, he partnered with the new archbishop in creating an informal men’s society made up of a core group of single guys. One-by-one, members left the group as they discerned vocations — to religious or family life and various careers. Soon only Roraff remained, pondering a possible call to the priesthood.

“I was still figuring out what God wanted for me and from me,” he told the Catholic Anchor recently, speaking from the pastor’s office at St. Andrew’s and sitting next to his mentor.

Archbishop Schwietz recalled that one element of his friendship with the future priest, which made it unique from the beginning, was that their association, rather than being strictly prospective-seminarian meets-archbishop, was “professional as well as ministerial in nature.”

The two organized Anchorage’s Theology & Brew, which brought notable Catholic speakers such as Peter Kreeft and Dawn Eden to Anchorage on a monthly basis for many years. This collaboration forged a warm, collegial style that is still evident more than a decade and a half later.

Today the two men share responsibility over the spiritual welfare of roughly 1,000 households registered at St. Andrew’s. It’s an arrangement Archbishop Schwietz set up shortly after ordaining Father Roraff in 2015, and one that newly installed Archbishop Paul Etienne has asked them to continue.

Archbishop Schwietz had a similar arrangement more than 50 years ago when he received his first priestly assignment. He recalls working alongside a parish priest in Wisconsin who allowed him to grow in his own pastoral style. According to Archbishop Schwietz, some pastors tend to be more territorial, not allowing the newly ordained enough responsibility to develop leadership skills. This is not how Archbishop Schwietz approaches Father Roraff.

Aware of the benefits that come with a wide berth, Archbishop Schwietz has carried this style into his own mentorships. In Father Roraff he sees a “perfectionist who sincerely loves people,” as well as a model for organization and detail.

The two men regularly pray the Divine Office together and have established a calendar of staggered duties which allows each to spend time with their flock as well as take care of parish and archdiocesan business.

Another piece of their shared ministry lies in their distinctly different temperaments, which Father Roraff describes as a “luxury.” His own methodical nature finds refreshing wisdom and joy in the 76-year-old archbishop’s all-encompassing nature.

“He’s the visionary,” mused Father Roraff, as he described Archbishop Schwietz’s ability to offer the broad strokes of a new idea or project, while he begins internally ticking off logistical challenges.

“At times he’ll suggest a major goal and I’m immediately thinking, ‘Okay, but how?’” Father Roraff said.

Finally, both men defer to the strength and devotion of their parishioners as a source of cohesion. They seem energized and humbled by the appreciation from their parish community.

“As a priest, I know I don’t do everything perfectly,” Father Roraff admitted. “They’ve extended such encouragement, and Archbishop Schwietz provides the stability.”

Speaking of her two pastors, parishioner Michele Finley recalled that they, “wrote a Christmas greeting last year, and it was signed, ‘The Old Man and the Kid.’ We are so deeply blessed to have both of them.”

Dolores Coates, a member of St. Andrew’s since 1985, echoed the sentiment: “You’d have a tough time finding anyone here who feels otherwise.”

Both women are part of a mainstay fellowship following morning Mass at Saint Andrew. Babies are passed around while social updates and life stories are swapped over coffee and tea. Their conversations are often filtered through the shared vocabulary of Catholic theology, but divergent opinions are plentiful. Banter about a given pope rapidly becomes chatter about current events or life philosophies. When stuck on a tricky topic, the group appreciates being able to streamline their query and holler to Father or Archbishop (in the next room) for an authoritative word.

“We can get pretty loud in here, and of course they’re busy — but they’re known to duck in for their daily yak, occasionally,” laughed Coates.

Both men express confidence in their futures, trusting God to equip them for a day’s work, and to reveal where their talents are needed next. On the horizon for Father Roraff, now in his second year of priesthood, is assisting the Diocese of Fairbanks by making monthly visits to St. Patrick Church in Barrow/Utqiagvik, the northernmost Catholic parish in the world.

Archbishop Schwietz shows paternal pride when describing Father Roraff’s coming adventures. The new priest just shrugs, “It’s all about serving the church in Alaska — my home.”

'‘The Old Man and the Kid’' have 1 comment

  1. January 2017 @ 1:57 pm Teri Perez

    What a beautiful picture and article! Many thanks and blessings to the Old Man and the Kid!


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