the Inland Register
(From the June 21, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)
Four priests of the Spokane Diocese were honored for their years of ministry at a special gathering June 12 at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center.
Msgr. William Van Ommeren and Father Charles Skok celebrate 60 years of priesthood this year.
Father J. Severyn Westbrook celebrates his 50th anniversary.
Father Joachim Hiên retires July 1 of this year.
Father Charles Skok was ordained a priest April 30, 1952, by Spokane’s Bishop Charles White at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes.
He was born in Valley, Wash., and entered St. Edward High School Seminary in Kenmore, Wash. He finished his master’s of divinity degree there, and later studied at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome, for a licentiate and doctorate in sacred theology.
He has served in a number of different ministries over the years: as both superior and as rector of Bishop White Seminary; chancellor and superintendent of education and of religious education for the diocese; assistant pastor of St. Patrick, Walla Walla, and vice principal and principal of DeSales High School; and diocesan supervisor of Marycliff High School.
Father Skok also ministered as a pastor: of Holy Rosary Parish, Trentwood; Sacred Heart Parish, Pullman; Sacred Heart Parish, Spokane; and St. Patrick Parish, Pasco, before becoming professor of theology at Gonzaga University, where he taught moral theology and Christian ethics.
Father Skok retired in 1997, but continues to minister in residence at St. John Vianney Parish in Spokane Valley.
Looking back on his life in ministry in a 2005 interview with the Inland Register, Father Skok had this to say:
“I have a great faith in Christ, and in the church, and like the late Father Tony Flour said one time, ‘If the Holy Spirit were a golfer he wouldn’t play a course without sand traps and water hazards.’ I think that’s the kind of course we’re on.
“These have been tough days in the church, very, very tough for the priests, and a lot of bitter antagonism against the church,” he said. “The Holy Spirit still guides the church, and I still trust the Holy Spirit.”
Msgr. William Van Ommeren was born in Tilburg, Netherlands.
He, too, studied at St. Edward Seminary in Seattle. He went on to earn a degree in canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
He was ordained to the priesthood at the same Mass as Father Skok, by Bishop Charles White on April 30, 1952, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes.
He has been an assistant pastor (St. Augustine and St. Ann in Spokane, Holy Family in Clarkston), spiritual director and diocesan supervisor of Marycliff High School in Spokane, advocate in the diocese’s marriage court, chancellor of the diocese, and superior and rector of Bishop White and Mater Cleri seminaries.
As a pastor, Msgr. Van Ommeren served the parishes of St. Joseph, Trentwood; St. Anne, Medical Lake; the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, Spokane; St. Joseph, Spokane; and St. Rose of Lima, Cheney.
He served for many years as spiritual director of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, Spokane.
In 2002, the Inland Register interviewed him on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination.
He said his life had become “progressively more peaceful and joyful. From 25-50 I was trying to work and show what I could do. Now I do less worrying. I know better what’s important, and that is my relationship with God.”
That relationship has meant choosing the priesthood – repeatedly. “It’s an ongoing choice,” he said, “and I’m glad to choose it.”
Father J. Severyn Westbrook was born in St. Paul, Minn.
He attended Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon and St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., prior to ordination May 31, 1962, by Bishop Charles Helmsing at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Conception, Mo.
Father Westbrook served several parishes as an assistant pastor: St. Charles in Spokane; twice at St. Patrick in Walla Walla; at Sacred Heart, Pullman; and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, Spokane.
He also ministered as chaplain of Fort Wright College in Spokane.
In 1977 he returned to Pullman as pastor of Sacred Heart. He later was assigned as pastor to St. Mary of the Rosary, Chewelah, and St. Rose of Lima, Cheney, before he retired in 1999.
For many years, he wrote commentary for the Inland Register, “Letter from the Palouse” (later, “Letter from the West Plains”).
Father Joachim Hiên was born in Da-Nang, Vietnam.
He studied at Minor Seminary of St. Joseph, Qui Nhon City, Vietnam, and Pontifical College of St. Pius X, Dalat City, Vietnam.
He was ordained a priest in the cathedral there on Dec. 22, 1974, by Bishop Peter Mary Pham Ngoc Chi.
He served as Da-Nang refugee clergy council in Saigon, and after coming to the United States, chaplain for Vietnamese refugees in Wake Island and secretary for the Priests Council in Fort Chaffee, Ark., Refugee Center.
He was associate pastor of St. James Cathedral, Seattle, and vicar for Vietnamese for the Seattle Archdiocese before coming to the Spokane Diocese in 1977.
He served as associate pastor of St. Charles, St. Patrick, and St. Thomas More parishes in Spokane, and as pastor of the parishes in Tekoa and Rockford, and St. Francis Xavier, St. Charles, and St. Anthony parishes in Spokane.
He was also a spiritual director of Bishop White Seminary in Spokane.
In 1994 he began full-time ministry with the Association of Vietnamese Clergy and Religious in the United States and the Federation of Vietnamese Catholics while being in residence at St. Charles, Spokane.
His retirement is effective July 1, 2012.
In 1994 he was interviewed by National Catholic Reporter about his work with Vietnamese Catholics in the United States.
“Looking back at my priesthood, I am amazed at God’s presence in my life,” he said. “My journey has moved intensely forward.”