The Great Winter of 1949 was devastating southern Idaho when a very young Father Roger LaChance made his Gem State entrance.
"During the big storm of 1949, my family moved from Minneapolis to Pocatello, Idaho," LaChance said.
His dad worked for Ralston Purina and had been promoted, so he was transferred from Minnesota to Pocatello in the middle of one of Idaho's worst winters on record.
"We came to Pocatello and the snow was so deep that you could just see the antennas of the cars," he said. "It was just like the big storm we had in 2007."
Since that snowy introduction, LaChance has helped countless people weather storms in their own lives through his work as a priest. He began serving as the parish priest of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Coeur d'Alene on July 14, 1995.
"In the Catholic Church, priests are assigned by their bishop to certain parishes and certain responsibilities," he said. "Iíve been here almost 22 years."
LaChance will retire from his position at St. Pius at the end of June. He will return to Pocatello (in much better weather than he arrived) and continue helping people any way he can.
ďI love serving people," he said. "Jesus says, ĎIím in your midst as one who serves,í and I try to emulate him to be a servant to the people. Sometimes people are not always easy, and Iím sure sometimes Iím not always easy. But I feel this is what Godís calling me to do, so I have to be true to myself, true to what I feel Godís calling me to do.Ē
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What inspired you to become a clergyman?
ďI was very young. I was in the eighth grade, and I just felt that there was something within me that said, ĎTry this, try this, try this.í I just felt a calling that this is something that I wanted to at least try to see if this is what God was asking me to be. I remember going to talk to my mom and dad, and I said, 'I think I want to be a priest.í So July of 1955 we went and talked to my parish priest and that fall I was off to the high school seminary in Oregon. In those days high school seminaries were very popular. Thereís very few right now. But thatís where I started off in 1955, Mount Angel Seminary High School. And of course, seminaries, it doesnít mean youíre going to go to seminary and youíre going to make it. Candidly, of the 55 of us who entered that year, eventually, by the time we were seniors in high school, there were only 12 of us left. Of that 12, seven of us eventually were ordained priests."
What are some rewards of your work? When you go home at night, do you think, ĎIím really glad Iím doing this?í
ďFor instance, I get a call and somebodyís dying. Just to know that Iíve been there maybe to help that person on his way to face Almighty God, thatís part of it. At the end of the day, you know, who Iíve helped today ó and not that I sit there and just check it off ó but to just be thankful that I was an instrument that day. And God is the god of surprises because sometimes Iím surprised by the situations that I meet. With God, there are no Ďhappen-chances,í if you know what I mean. I was just able to be there at the right time at the right moment, thatís Godís grace and God putting me there.Ē
Do you have any challenges at this point?
ďChallenges would be that I cannot be all things to all people. The Lord is, but I canít be all things to all people. All I can be is the best me I can be. My earnest prayer is that I havenít driven people away from God, but hopefully helped them in their journey to God. And if Iíve hurt anybody, Iím deeply sorry for that.Ē
Do you have a comment on the madness thatís happening in the world today? Or has there always been madness, itís just a different kind these days?
ďThere are different kinds of madnesses. Right now the unfortunate madness that is affecting our world is the lack of respect for life, for all life, from the unborn to natural death. We see wars and bombings and shootings and abuse, all those kinds of things. Those are really painful because what happens to the dignity of the human life? Itís assaulted and slapped in the face, and thatís really saddening and disheartening, but what do you do? You got to keep on encouraging people and encouraging yourself to do what? To have that respect and reverence for all life.Ē
Itís Easter week. Do you notice a change in peopleís attitudes this time of year?
ďEvery year, the Church, the Christian communities, reflect on Lent as a preparation time for the gift of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus. And I think people see Lent as a stepping back, maybe a deepening of our own walk with life, of our being open to more and more of Godís graces and really to realize that, ĎWe are an Easter People and Alleluia, praise God is our song!í St. Augustine once said that. I think thatís really true, that we are an Easter people and we know that the resurrection of Jesus is Christís promise for eternal life. Every Good Friday thereís an awesome Easter because there are so many Good Fridays in our lives. And I just donít mean literally the day, but there are hurts and sadnesses of deaths and challenges that are there, but after Good Friday is the promise of the Easter because time is on Godís side. Time is on Godís side."
Whatís the significance of Easter? Why is this such an important time for people? Because itís springtime, a renewal?
ďSure, springtime is renewal in nature. But Easter is also the renewal of our faith because St. Paul says, ĎIf Christ isnít risen from the dead, your faith is in vain.í Easter is the promise of, ĎIf Christ is raised from the dead, then we too. The promise is there for us.í Hereís something Iím going to share with my people (today): ĎWe come at Easter and really every Sunday to find meaning and faith. The Easter Good News is this ó the resurrection is not limited to Jesus. We, through our baptism, have risen with Christ to eternal life. So remember, living out our baptismal promises are mighty reminders that Jesus has received and that through baptism we have risen with Christ through eternal life.í And Jesus would say in Johnís gospel, ĎI am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And every living person who puts faith in me will never suffer eternal death.í So the resurrection is really what itís about, that death is not the end of all. Itís the journey of life from this life into eternal life. None of us chose to be born; we were all gifted with life, but what we make with our life, thatís our gift back to God. So what are we called to do? Weíre called to be an Easter people, weíre called to be a faithful people. Itís not enough to say, ĎI believeí and do nothing about it. You've got to put your faith into action. If we are believers, then we need to act like believers."
Do you have any special traditions you do to celebrate Easter?
ďThe liturgy. I love Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter, because theyíre the highlights of the church year. Why are they so important? Because itís really great to see the people involved and the people renewing their baptismal promises, people really making a point to be at Mass on Easter. Why? Because if Christ hasnít been risen from the dead, then weíre still our sins, weíre still fools, and yet we believe through the resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrate each Easter, that we are called, you and I, to do what? To be people of faith and to recharge our spiritual batteries, to move into the world that sometimes is hostile to Christ and hostile to the Christian message. Christmas is great, but the high point of the Church year is ... Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter."
When you look back at your time on St. Pius, what will you think about? What will you miss?
ďThe people. This has been a marvelous parish. The people are very affirming and thereís a real desire to be good and holy people. Iíve buried a lot of saints here, if you know what I mean, and a lot of good, good people living, journeying through life with me and with one another. Itís the people. And I tell people Iíve never had a bad assignment, Iíve been blessed wherever Iíve been. And the people are people of faith, people who have warts and beauty marks like the rest of us, but people are just struggling to please God and be the best people they can be.Ē
Whatís in store for retirement? Are you going to be working abroad or sitting on sandy beaches in the Florida Keys?
ďIíll be moving to Pocatello where my sisters live. I do hope to do some traveling, but as a retired priest Iíll be helping out in the Pocatello area because theyíre in need of help down there, but I wonít have the responsibilities that Iíve had up here. Iím sure Iíll be active in hospital visitation, which I love, just being there. Pocatello is my hometown and Iím going back after leaving there 25 years ago.Ē
Iím sure once a priest, always a priest.
ďThatís it in a nutshell, once a priest always a priest. Thatís right.Ē
Is there anything youíd like to say to this community as a parting thought?
ďI would say be the best you can be. Be the people God created you to be, holy, caring, loving, forgiving, being there for others. Be faithful to God and be faithful to one another.Ē
Born and raised: Crookston, Minn.; Pocatello, Idaho
Education: Mount Angel Seminary College in Oregon, B.A. in philosophy with minors in history and education from St. Thomas Seminary College in Denver, four years of theological training and masterís in religious education from St. Thomas Theological Seminary in Denver
Family: Five brothers and three sisters
Favorite color: Red
Favorite music: Classical and semi-classical
Favorite film: ďBrother Sun, Sister MoonĒ (The story of St. Francis of Assisi)
Favorite books: ďThe Lord of the RingsĒ series
Best advice youíve ever received: Be the best Ďyouí you can be, be the person God created you to be
Historical person you admire: Jesus Christ
Personal philosophy or mantra: To truly be a Christian, love God and love those made in Godís image and likeness