Abbot Owen Purcell, OSB, bid farewell to parishioners of St. Mary’s Parish on New Year’s Day, 2007. He departed Atchison, KS for several months on sabbatical beginning January 4. Parishioners held a reception in the parish hall after Mass and applauded him for his years of service to the community.

May 30, 2007 was the 50th Anniversary of Abbot Owen Purcell’s Ordination to the priesthood in 1957. According to an unwritten policy of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, it is a custom that a jubilarian may take a trip -- do something special. Abbot Owen was granted the following sabbatical beginning in early January 2007.

On January 4, he traveled to Albuquerque, NM. After visiting friends for several days, Abbot Owen traveled by bus to Tucson, AZ to the home of friends who took him to Picture Rocks Retreat Center where Abbot Owen made a retreat with the Redemptorists. Then, after a couple of days visit again with friends in Tucson, he shuttled to Scottsdale, AZ to visit for several days the casa Paz y Bien. From there Abbot Owen caught a ride to the Apache Indian Reservation at Whiteriver, AZ to work with a Fr. Eddie Fronske, OFM, a veteran missionary. Abbot Owen lived in a retreat house near the Church and worked with Fr. Fronske. Abbot Owen continued that service until the end of February or mid-March. Abbot Owen took a bus back to Kansas with several days’ stay in Colorado Springs to visit friends.

Later in April, Abbot Owen visited friends in New York City. Then it was on to Rochester, NY to visit friends of 50-years plus. Following that visit Abbot Owen spent a few days at St. Vincent Archabbey in Labrobe, Pennsylvania, and then returned to St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison.

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Messages During his Travel

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dear All,

My time here in Whiteriver is nearing an end. I will be leaving here Feb. 28, Wednesday, to return to the Casa de Paz y Bien in Scottsdale, AZ. There I will again stay with the Franciscan Friars and visit friends until March 4 when I will go to Colorado Springs, CO to spend a few days with a friend, Rick Champion, who teaches there. He was a teacher at Maur Hill-Mount Academy for several years. I will then grab a bus for Topeka, KS where someone from the Abbey will pick me up. I have traveled lots on buses and like them for a change.

As I noted two deacons from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas are here. Greg Hammes, originally from Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Seneca, and Rich Warczak of Cure of Ars Parish, Leawood, have been here on retreat. Fr. Blaine Greind, OFM of Chinle, AZ, Fr. Eddie of Whiteriver, and I spent time with them. There was time for reading, walking around a lake at Pine Top-Lakeside, and near the Apache Fish hatchery, and some common prayer as well. They are spending the night in Phoenix where they will visit classmates who live in Phoenix. The two will be ordained May 26 at Ascension Parish in Overland park, KS. Do keep them in your prayers.

When I arrived here the parish at Cibecue had a welcome Pot Luck complete with the Crown Dancers. This Sunday we will have a Farewell Potluck here at Whiteriver in the afternoon. No doubt there will be some Apache Fry Bread and maybe some acorn stew! The people here are very welcoming. I have gotten to know some by name.

Thursday we had the monthly special event for the Grandmothers. This is a matriarchal society and so the Grandmothers get special attention. We had soup, a special bread, cake and ice cream. Lovely older women -- many related and some my age!!!

As I look back on my time here I am very grateful to Abbot Barnabas and the Community of St. Benedict's Abbey for giving me the opportunity to take a Sabbatical to mark my 50th Anniversary of Ordination to the priesthood. The date is May 30th. When I return to Atchison I will be there for a couple of weeks and then I will take off for Rochester, NY to visit my long-time friend, Steve Burns and his wife, Sharynne. Later I will be in NY, NY to visit Tom Whalen and his wife, Carmen, and family. After Easter then I will go to St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA to visit our Brothers Gregory Dulmes and Jeremy Heppler who are studying there. I will be heading back to the Abbey after that and will be there for the first of our sesquicentennial events in late April.

I do feel that this stay in Whiteriver with Fr. Eddie Fronske, his great helpers, the Apache people that I have met, has been a "God" thing. I believe it no accident that I was led to get to know this wonderful Franciscan Friar who has ministered here for 24 years among the people on the lowest rung of American society, people beset with poverty, spousal abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction. Yet there is real beauty here amid this obvious suffering. The beauty is not only in the surrounding White Mountains but in the hearts of lovely people I have met, attached to their old and tribal ways and yet open to the Good News of the Gospel that says to them that there is real beauty around them, in their language and dress, and in their hearts that are often broken. This has been a grand experience. Thanks to all who have helped make it possible.

A special thanks to Elmer Ronnebaum who maintains the website and has since 2001. Thanks to all who have written letters and emails.

Love to all,

Fr. Owen Purcell, OSB

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Sunday, February 18, 2007
I am writing this, late on Sunday afternoon. I am here by myself in the office trying out the new computer. Fr. Eddie is on the way to the Casade Paz y Bien in Scottsdale, AZ where he will do an Elderhostel with another Franciscan. Eddie does the Native Religions part. He will return Wednesday and have a funeral of a young woman. I will ask if it is possible I can witness the rites, as they are at the house with native ritual as well as Catholic. I wait for the two Deacons from the Archdiocese, Greg Hammes and Rich Warczak. They are driving a rental car from Phoenix to here. The trip is a little more than three hours. Perhaps they might also be welcome at the funeral. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and so the deacons and I will be at Cibecue at 5 p.m. and Cedar Creek at 7:30 p.m. Check the map on the ‘overview’ for this sabbatical to see the location.

Monday the deacons and I, with my friend Leo Loeram will travel to Chinle, AZ and the Navajo Reservation. There is a fine Navajo restaurant there where you can order native food. The last time I was there I had Mutton Stew. Not bad at all. We will visit Fr. Blaine Griend, OFM, again and he will share some of his experiences as a priest on the Reservation with the Navajo for 28 years. We will look at the Canyon Des Chelly again, too. A photo of that has been posted on this Web site.

Fr. Eddie will share with the Deacons on Wed or Thursday. I will have a session with them as well. We will look at a narrative of Fr. Eddie's efforts to secure some peace and reconciliation between the White Mountain Apaches and the Pimas Tribe members. This is absolutely fascinating – and I encourage you to check out the story that is at this link --

Next Sunday there is a "good bye" potluck here at Whiteriver. The welcome potluck was at Cibecue, complete with the Crown Dancers. See the photo as well. There was a potluck yesterday on the one-year anniversary of the death of a woman. I attended and had an Apache tortilla and skipped the fried bread. It was the first time for acorn stew; I will have to develop a taste for that.

Brother Peter, OFM, was here on the OFM Provincial Council and has the job of visiting the friars in this part of the country. He lives with a priest on the smaller Mescalero Apache Reservation on New Mexico. He seemed to be a fine person.

Another young man, Jose Aguirre, stopped here Friday night -- and together we went to the Arizona trout hatchery about 10 miles from here. It is nestled in a beautiful canyon. What a place to have a home! Rushing waters with deep pools as well. We saw the beginning of the White River.

The scenery here is idyllic and there is a certain romance that can form around ministry to the Native Americans. But theirs is a very hard life. A speaker I heard recently ranked them bottom of a totem pole at the top of which is the white male, the white female, A European male, European female, an Asian, male followed by a female, a Hispanic male followed by a female, an near-eastern male followed by a female, a black male followed by a female and last of all the Native American male followed by a female. Not a pretty picture. Their babies and small children are so beautiful. What lovely black hair -- I do have some pictures that I will send some time.

Perhaps I will send another bulletin. Love to all, Owen

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Whiteriver, AZ, February 12, 2007

I have been here a little over three weeks now and the life on the Reservation continues to unfold. The weather has been cold and rainy. We are looking at some more snow this week as well. The people here love the moisture since it keeps the forests moist. Coming back from Cibecue Sunday it was drizzling and the mountains in the distance looked like someting out of Asia. Peaks in the distance lost in the mist. Lovely. Always when I think of the mountains and see them I think of the poverty that surrounds them. It seems that I see a lot of folks just walking the streets. We have some picnic benches in front of the church. When the sun is out they are often occupied. On Thursdays the Federal parolees gather in the parish hall for counselling. Recently the Parish Council has agreed to allow counselling for Sex Offendors on the Reservation as well. I was impressed by the Parish Council. Generous people who speak well and compassionately. One man, Jerry, is wise indeed. He, by the way, runs a sweat lodge on Thursday mights. Fr. Eddie could arrange it for me. We shall see. Would my pacemaker take the heat? Fr. Eddie and his retreat team did a Women's Retreat in Gallup, NM, at the Sacred Heart Retreat Center this weekend. I and Phyllis, a lovely person who is on staff here, did the four weekend Masses. Eddie's retreat went very well. There is a healing aspect to them as well and needed because of the background of the women. Phyllis and I managed well and almost hit an elk as large as a Volkswagon "bug". Elk on the highways are a huge problem.

The Community just loves basketball. It is an attraction at the LDS Church where I go for a meeting on Tuesday nights. The local high school team moved to the semifnals of the State last Saturday so Alchesay (named after a Chief) will be playing at Flagstaff Saturday and, God willing, at Tucson the following weekend. The people here love basketball like the people at St. Benedict and Baileyville do.

Fr. Eddie will be gone a part of the week The Casa in Scottsdale. Sunday the two deacons from the Archdiocese, Greg Hammes and his classmate, Rick, will be coming here for a preordination retreat. We have good things lined up like a trip to Canyon de Chelly and an hour with a Franciscan who has been with the Navajos 28 years. Fr. Eddie will give them some time and I will chime in along the way.

That is about it for now. This continues to be a very good experience. So different, so rich, so worth returning to. There is great trout fishing in the summer.

Until the next time, much love, Fr. Owen

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Monday, February 5, 2007

Ah, these amazing computers! Would you believe that I just finished a long installment and just lost it? So here we go again.

The staff and Fr. Eddie are 2000 feet higher than I right now on business at Pine Top. There is a women's retreat at Gallup, NM this weekend and they are already planning for 2008. The retreat focuses on beaten, battered, and other wise abused women, mostly Apache. Though this is a matriarchal society, the power seems reserved to what are called, The Grandmothers. They are the elders. Many of the younger women are in for a hard life with the alcohol abuse and 50% unemployment. The mothers love their kids even though the future is rather bleak. Some from here are at Haskell in Lawrence, KS. The Apache babies are so cute. I have gotten some good pictures that will be included later.

My last baptism was Sunday at Cibecue, my favorite place. We had cake and ice cream afterwards. As we were leaving I saw some young Apache "braves" out for a horse back ride and some walking a dry riverbed. Shades of Geronimo though. He was south of here, as far south of Fort Apache as possible. After the party, Fr. Eddie and the staff gathered at the home of another in Pine Top, a place in the tall woods for food and football. Great fun.

I wish you all could meet Eddie. He has been here for 23 years and is truly charismatic. He has been beaten once and has had his life threatened. Largely this is alcohol inspired behavior. There is alcohol abuse. This morning, Fr. and I were returning from a walk along the White River, where Eddie carries pepper spray to keep the dogs away, we saw an Apache nearly killed crossing the highway! This is not a fancy place but the Spirit is truly active. We had a Healing Mass last Saturday evening that lasted 5 hours. I did step forward to the anointing and something really good happened to me.

I will be doing the Masses this weekend while the rest are at Gallup, NM for the women's retreat. Later this week I will go to Gallup for a talk for the diocesan clergy. The diocese is a part of AZ and NM.

Keep me in your thoughts and prayers. My love, Fr. Owen

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It has been a week now, a little over that, since I arrived here. I have no regrets. In so many ways this is all new -- from the language, the people, the customs, some of the food, the relaxed way of doing things. Now that Fr. Eddie has returned from the Friar’s retreat, as of yesterday, we can now get back to normal. My being here the past two weekends allowed him to be gone and not have to scare up a local substitute -- a rare bird these days.

It has been an experience to digest the ritual changes, like use of a drum during the entrance, a smudge pot whose smoke is wafted through the church with an eagle feather, pivoting clockwise as one says the Great Amen, using the eagle feather after Mass to spread the smoke over myself. For me, that's all new stuff! We start small but the church fills up eventually. There was a full house at Cibecue, the isolated and more primitive place. We had 67 Sunday, as well as a performance in my honor by The Crown Dancers who are masked, and a potluck with plenty of food. I took some pix and will send them along. I have the crowd laughing when I paraphrased Willie Nelson's song: "Mamas, don't let your baby grow up to be (not cowboys) prophets!!" After all, my message: Jeremiah and Jesus had a hard time!!

Yesterday (Monday), Leo Loera and I went to Chinle. After a bowl of mutton stew at a Navajo restaurant we called on the pastor, Fr. Blaine Grein, OFM, who has been there 28 years. What a fine man! Fr. Ron Walter of Atchison, an OFM, ordained in the Abbey Church, is at St. Michael's nearby. There was an OFM Sister working with alcoholics there who had been a missionary in Brazil, knew Mineiros from making retreats there and knew our men there, especially Bp. Matthias, my classmate. We were ordained together.

When we left Chinle Leo and I went to Canyou de Chelly (Canyon de shay) which is a miniature grand canyon; it is just lovely. We ended the 200-mile trip back with a dinner at a place in Show Low where trout and venison were on the menu. That is typical of the place. As we went north and along the border with New Mexico the vistas were magnificent and seemed to give a view for 100 miles.

We are in for more snow here at 5,000 feet, perhaps 7 to 10 inches. In the high country at 7,000 and 11,000 there will be a lot more. Super Bowl Sunday, we will celebrate a birthday with a party and meal. Nothing dull about being on the Reservation.

It's time for 12:15 Mass, Tuesday, January 30. Love to all.

-- Fr. Owen

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Message from Abbot Owen, Wednesday, January 24, 2007

While I am at the computer I will try and put together a few thoughts for all who "tune" in.   I arrived at White Mountain Apache Reservation (Nation) on January 18. This is a beautiful array of snowy mountains and pine, juniper and oak forests. The scenery is lovely and with the snow one can see why the area is called the White Mountains.  The area is estimated at one million acres.  On the Reservation the main town is Whiteriver where I live with Fr. Eddie Fronske, OFM, at St. Francis Church.  I live in a retreat center 20 feet away. It is a fine spot to hang my hat.  Fr. Eddie has been here for 23 years and is a special kind of person, aged 65, full of life, and a charismatic kind of person. He has an eye for the poor and feeds numerous folks, some on alcohol and meth daily, with coffee and peanut and butter sandwiches.  He is on call 24 hours a day.

Last Sunday I had the parish Masses, one here at Whiteriver and another at Cedar Creek. The snow got bad and so we had 4 at Cedar Creek. Anna, a helper here, and I had another Mass here Sunday with two baptisms and were to go to the very, very poorest of the missions at Cibecue (CBQ) but we were re snowed out. The roads up and down mountains were treacherous but we made it home. There was to be a potluck in my honor complete with the appearance of the Crown Dancers. These are very sacred to the Apache and their identity is largely unknown. That was a very special treat. At the Apache Supermarket yesterday we ran into a mother from the parish and she said there was to be another potluck and appearance of the Crown Dancers this coming Sunday. She was pushing a cart with a cute little girl riding in it. The father, who had when drinking, jumped through a window, cut his arteries and died on the spot.  I have read up on the Dancers and so really look forward to that.   I have daily Mass at 12:15 PM. Three or four are there. 

The beauty of nature contrasts with the deep poverty, alcoholism and meth use. There is a lot of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome here. Lots of broken homes. A person came here this morning, Wednesday and I could only listen.  I do not know the system though I did call, getting a ride from Anna, at the Rainbow Treatment Center and inquired about AA at the local LDS Church.  We are not the only church. There are Assembly of God, Baptist, Methodist, I think, and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans. The Lutherans got here first as they were assigned by the US Government. All the Churches but the Catholic demand that the folks when they convert give up all Native religion.  We do not and go one step further in trying to incorporate some rite into the Catholic services. By the way, it seems that the White Mountain Apaches got the best part of the Reservation since they served as scouts for General Crook. Fort Apache, by the way, is near here. I was there. The San Carlos Apache to the south got the less best part because they helped Geronimo. 

There is a casino north of here at 7000 feet. We are at one mile high. There the cell phone works for me, a T-Mobile.   We were there yesterday on the way to Show-Low -- a large town to buy a new toilet fixture. The casino is in Pine Top. Monday I am to home with Leo, a fine Hispanic man who helps here toward Canyon de Chelly ( I think they say canyon de Shay) which is supposed to be just lovely. I did see the top of Mount Baldy at 11,000 ft. yesterday from a distance.  I am taking some pix and hope to share with all of you.  End of this installment.

Love to all.


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