Sept. 11, 2006

Fr. Martin to leave St. Mary's Care Center

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Fr. Martin Rath, chaplain at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted for 10 years, is planning to take a sabbatical in April 2007.

Rath is a monk and priest of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, where he first entered the religious life in 1948.

Although Rath is saddened by his spring departure from St. Mary’s, he admits his age has definitely slowed him down some the last couple of years, and he has not been able to accomplish as many things as he once did. He still has a very full schedule for someone even half his age.

As a monk, Rath must also be obedient to the abbot at St. John’s. “Other priests must be obedient to the bishop, we monks have to be obedient to John Klassen, our abbot at St. John’s, and he set the date of April 30 for me leaving St. Mary’s. He gets the last word,” Rath said with a smile.

Ordained to the priesthood June 5, 1983, after being a “faithful, obedient, cheerful brother monk for 33 years,” Fr. Martin has taken advantage of his earlier years at the abbey learning the monastic traditions and teachings, and has been able to bring those Benedictine teachings with him to share as a priest on his assignments as pastor and chaplain.

The Benedictine Rule for hospitality is to see Christ in each person you meet, and Rath sees that same hospitality at St. Mary’s Care Center.

“It is one of the best nursing homes that I have worked in because they see Christ in each patient and in each other,” Rath said.

“The life I have been leading here has been very inspirational to me and if I could, I would stay another 10 years, if I could live to 94,” Rath added.

Andy Opsahl, administrator/CEO of St. Mary’s Care Center said, “We are very grateful for the dedication, thoughtful, and considerate spiritual care Father Rath provides for our residents at St. Mary’s. He always goes the extra mile to ensure residents who want the spiritual element in their lives have access to it.”

Fr. Martin’s history

Rath was born in Minneapolis in 1922, to Charles and Mary (Schneider) Rath, who were originally from Austria-Hungary.

He was the youngest son, with seven older brothers: Steven is deceased; Charlie, 96; Joseph, deceased; Matt, 92; John and Paulie, deceased; Eddie, 86; and Martin 84. He also had two younger sisters, Mary Ann and Dorothy, who are both deceased.

When he was about 17 years old, he began to pray, asking for guidance in what he thought might possibly be a vocation.

While he waited for his prayers to be answered, he graduated from North High School in Minneapolis in 1941. Then, he attended night classes at the University of Minnesota for writing and aeronautical mechanics. During the day, he tried various occupations, including working at the family-owned “Rath’s Cafe.”

It took almost 10 years for his prayers to be answered. At first, he thought that he might be a Mary Knoll missionary, but his parish priest was a Benedictine, and it was at his suggestion that Rath entered St. John’s Abbey.

“When I entered St. John’s Abbey, there were almost 400 monks, and now we are down to 175,” Rath said. “So many have passed away and none to replace them. In the old days, we used to have 20 candidates come in a year. Now, lately, we just have one or two.”

When the number of monks was much larger, there would be monks helping out at parishes and care centers all over Minnesota. Today, the majority are contained to the diocese of St. Cloud.

As a brother monk, Rath worked a number of different jobs that were located at St. John’s. He worked in its print shop, as a gardener, refectory, bookstore, and as a US postal worker.

He enjoyed those years, doing some oil paintings (some sold when he worked in St. John’s bookstore), journaling, and he wrote poetry and songs, too.

Rath continued his prayers, thinking about a vocation in the priesthood, and was happy when he was accepted as a candidate in 1980. “At that time, there was kind of a rule that once you were a brother, you stayed a brother,” he said.

From 1980 to 1983, Rath studied theology at the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.

After completing his studies at Sacred Heart, he was ordained to the priesthood. His first assignment as an ordained priest was associate pastor of St. Bernard’s Parish in St. Paul. In 1987, he became the founder and spiritual director of Nazareth House in St. Paul.

He has also been chaplain of St. Theresa’s Nursing Home in New Hope, and pastor of parishes in Ogema, Waubun, and Freeport, Minn.

From October 1996 to present, he has been chaplain of St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted.

He is also very involved in promoting small gatherings of prayer and forming small basic Christian communities. He visits a number of these small groups once a month in St. Paul, Waconia, Annandale, and New Germany, as well as Winsted.

Rath feels that the apex of his vocation is right here and right now. In fact, he says, “the highlights are still coming.”

When asked if there was anything he would have done differently in his life, Rath said, “I was disappointed because I started late in life. I wish I would have taken an extra year of theology in the seminary at Sacred Heart. I got out in three years, but another year would have been helpful with the challenges we have in the nursing home and in the parishes.”

“As a chaplain trying to touch the hearts of the elderly, the sick, the dying, I felt I never quite measured up to such a sensitive task,” Rath said.

Rath plans to be on sabbatical for at least three to four months – next summer, May to October. He hopes to do some writing about community life and to continue with his writings on his past study experience.

After his sabbatical, he is thinking of retiring at St. John’s Abbey in their health center, Rath said.

As he continues to think in terms of the future, and maybe that chance to study in Rome or Israel for a time, Rath’s thoughts still return to the present, and he said, “I love my job here. I will miss Winsted, St. Mary’s Care Center, and all of the friends I have had here over the last 10 years.”

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