Father Chuck Wood – Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter

(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser.  Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it through an e-mail, please visit the blog to see all of the photos by clicking on the title above so the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)

Followers of Thebeerchaser blog know that each quarter, I name an individual or group as my Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.  They may or may not have anything to do with bars or beer; however, the “honoree” has, in my humble opinion, made a contribution to society and a good story I try to convey.  (For the BOQ posts, see the tab on the left side of the header above.)

Dr. John Walker – Portland State University graduate school

As an example, my last group so honored was Lawyers – in light of the 40+ years I worked with these professionals.  Individuals who have garnered this designation include veterans with distinguished military service, authors, athletes, media personalities, civic leaders and academicians including my graduate school professor of public finance – Dr. John Walker.  

The individuals whose stories I related in 2020 include William Tucker (Billy) Main – an outstanding member of the 1967 Oregon State Beaver Giantkiller Football Team and Jack and Jan McGowan – the co-Executive Directors of the outstanding Oregon environmental group SOLVE.

Jan and Jack at their Sisters, OR home

This quarter, Fr. Chuck Wood, joins another man-of-the-cloth, Fr. Martin Grassel (Order of St. Benedictine) in BOQ membership.

Fr. Martin, a Benedictine monk, is also the Head Brewer for the Benedictine Brewery – one of three in the US owned and operated by Benedictine Monks.  I have been privileged to be involved as a volunteer with the Brewery and development of the St. Michael Taproom since late 2017, where our motto is “Taste and Believe” and our flagship beer is Black Habit.

Head Brewer and Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary Procurator, Fr. Martin Grassel

Through involvement with the Brewery, in part, I became a member of the Abbey Foundation of Oregon (AFO) Board of Trustees, which is where I met Fr. Chuck – another member of the Board.  Before telling you Chuck’s story, a few general comments on why I wanted to share it with you.

I’m a Presbyterian, so before becoming involved in the Brewery and the AFO, I had essentially no prior contact with either priests or monks.  Since then – fall of 2017 – I’ve become good friends with both a number of Benedictine Monks who live at the Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary and the priests involved with the Abbey.  (Perhaps the picture below, will show why you should visit the beautiful and expansive grounds on the Abbey Hilltop.)

Without exception, they have been wonderful caring and dedicated men of God.  The monks at the Abbey pray collectively six times a day and rise at 5:00 AM to commence their prayer and duties.  They also have diverse backgrounds, for example, Fr. Martin, graduated from the University of North Dakota in Computer Science and after graduation worked as a software engineer for Honeywell Corp in Phoenix, when he got the call which brought him to Mount Angel.

Abbott Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, grew up on a farm in a small town in Idaho and became the twelfth elected head of the Abbey and Seminary in 2016. Before he was elected Abbot, Fr. Jeremy taught theology at Mount Angel Seminary and at Sant’ Anselmo University in Rome.

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll OSB

He has published three books and fifteen scholarly articles on Evagrius (a Christian monk and ascetic) and related topics in ancient Egyptian monasticism.

He has also written widely on liturgical questions. and published three books of poetry in addition to a recent collection of poetic essays called A Monk’s Alphabet.  (A wonderful book I would strongly recommend.)

The Abbot has a wonderful sense of humor and his humility endears him to all.  To see an example, check out this short video – one of the weekly inspirational messages – this one at Thanksgiving – he has given to those of all faiths during the pandemic: https://www.mountangelabbey.org/monastery/abbot-jeremy/abbot-jeremy-videos/

And with apologies for digressing – again…but I have been amazed at the wonderful  perspective and collective sense of humor all the clerics I have met possess.   While I  talk about this merriment more below, look at a brief preview with Fr. Chuck and two of his colleagues (Fr. Mark Nelson and Fr. Mark Bentz)

This YouTube clip is entitled “Three Priests React to Priest and Church Jokes,” and while some of the jokes are corny, just observing the fun these three priests have doing the bit, is well worth watching. (Click on the center of the photo below)

Father Chuck

Chuck and his dad in Washington DC.

Chuck was born in Washington DC in 1960 into a Catholic family.  His dad was a graphic artist and designer who worked for the Depts. of Agriculture and Labor.  His mom, raised a Baptist, converted to Catholicism and worked as a clinical and hospital nurse at both Howard University and in a private clinic.

The theatre, music and art were all avid interests – “I was a creature of artistic variety and was involved in drama from the time I was in grade school, but our plays were terrible and my talents as an actor were not so good!”  (You’ll have a chance to judge that below…)

His best friend starting in second grade was Vincent Cowal – they kept in contact and in one of a number of amazing “coincidences” in Chuck’s life, Vince now teaches media and technology at Jesuit High School in Portland where he is a respected educator.

Chuck Wood was a good boy growing up – never in trouble, having no curfew, and was interested in going into politics and government – maybe as a diplomat.  He graduated from St. Anselm’s Abbey School – an all boys school for grades 6-12, which was on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery and where “Where Bright Boys Become Exceptional Men.” 

St. Anselm’s Abbey School

A turning point……

Then in his sophomore year “I became bored with being a good boy.”   After a year of somewhat disruptive behavior contrasting with his former demeanor – although not resulting in any major trouble – he had a change of heart because of the influence of a young priest.

Fr. Thomas Kalita came to Chuck’s Catholic parish and helped the young man come to the realization that being a Christian meant not just going to church, but having a personal relationship with Jesus and helping others.

Fr. Kalita – a profound influence

In October 1976 at an evening service, he committed to do that.  “It changed my life.  My life now is a direct line from that day.”   He said that “prayers and circumstance got me to the University of Notre Dame.”

A central factor and one that “became part of my identity” was his introduction to People of Praise.  Founded in 1971 in South Bend, Indiana, this organization has grown into a community of about 1,700 members…. in 22 cities across the US, Canada, and the Caribbean.  To summarize their philosophy:

Jesus desires unity for all people. We live out this unity the best we can, in spite of the divisions within Christianity. We are Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and other denominational and nondenominational Christians…. Despite our differences, we worship together. While remaining faithful members of our own churches, we have found a way to live our daily lives together.

Our community life is characterized by deep and lasting friendships. We share our lives together often in small groups and in larger prayer meetings……. We strive to live our daily lives in our families, workplaces and cities in harmony with God and with all people.”  (People of Praise webslite)

Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the Notre Dame campus

Chuck became a member of People of Praise  (POP) in the fall of 1978 while a student at Notre Dame and also joined the Brotherhood within POP committed to a celibate life.

He studied economics and government and was a “bad actor” in a number of University productions and “hung around with artsy friends.”   During this time his interest in journalism was heightened by writing articles for the school newspaper and serving as editor of the student magazine.

Preparing for life after graduation, he applied and was rejected for several jobs including a nationally known Catholic publisher, but a priest told him about an internship at the Catholic News Service in Washington, DC. and through the help of a Catholic bishop, he secured an interview in his senior year.

When the six-month internship ended, he was hired as a reporter – a job he loved and at age 24, he thought would be a great lifetime career. Moving back to South Bend, he took a job at a small publishing company.  Although Chuck was firmly committed to People of Praise, he had not seriously considered the Catholic priesthood.

Looking back, when he was about eleven, his Aunt Leona – a protestant – commented to Chuck’s mom, “He will probably be a priest.”   After he was ordained his sister stated,  “Chuck was probably the last person in our family to know that!”

Cardinal Francis George – another strong influence in Chuck Wood’s spiritual journey

Chuck stated, “God nudged and prodded me to be open to the possibility.”   And part of that “prodding” was moving to Portland in 1996 after driving across the country in two vans with ten other Brothers from the People of Praise living in communities in South Bend and Minneapolis.

This was, in part, at the urging of Yakima Archbishop Francis George who would soon be appointed as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Portland and who was eventually created a Catholic Cardinal in Chicago by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

This move was a matter of faith as he was finishing his Masters in Theology at Notre Dame.  Three of the ten new Oregonians decided to attend seminary at Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary near Salem, Oregon – a Benedictine community.  Two started in the fall of 1996 and Chuck joined them in January.

“I attended high school on the grounds of a Benedictine Monastery and felt very comfortable in this environment,” he stated.  “I became immersed in the Benedictine tradition and love the intellect and culture.”

Mt. Angel Abbey Seminarians

Upon graduation in 2000, he was ordained a priest and his first assignment was at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in North Portland.  For two years at that assignment,  he and a colleague also co-pastored at Sacred Heart Church in SE Portland.

It also brought some special assignments with a Brother from POP in Minnesota involving teaching at a secondary school. He then returned to his long-term home in Oregon, where Fr. Chuck has served in a number of parish posts all in the Portland metropolitan area as follows:

2004 – 2010:  St. Henry’s Catholic Church in Gresham as Associate Pastor

2010 – 2012:  St. Clare Parish in SW Portland as Pastor

St. Clare Catholic Church

2012 – -2016: Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego as Associate Pastor

Now lest you think that Fr. Wood’s attachment to the arts diminished in his ministry and restrained him from showing his talents, take a look at this video below.

It shows him and Fr. John Kerns, the Pastor, rocking out and their “inspired” dance moves to the cheers of their congregation at Our Lady of the Lake’s 2014 Parish Festival.  (This one should make you laugh out loud….!)  And if you search YouTube, you can find more of Chuck’s artistic endeavors including a Gilbert and Sullivan entry. (Click on the center of the photo below)

2016 to present: St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Scapoose ( 20 miles from Portland) as Pastor

The beautiful sanctuary of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church

St. Wenceslaus is a parish of about 275-300 households. They are fortunate to have a pastor with the faith, dedication, intellect, sense of humor and dance moves of Fr. Chuck Wood.

Since this is a blog about bars and beers, I ended my interview (unfortunately we could not meet face-to-face in a bar or brewery) asking Fr. Chuck about his beer-of-choice to which he replied:

“Because of pre-diabetes, blood sugar issues, I had to cut back on beer intake.  When I do drink beer, I like darker brews – stouts and porters such as Benedictine Brewery’s ‘Black Habit(an obvious choice) – and Hopworks Urban Brewing – ‘Survival – 7 Grain Stout.'”

In light of Fr. Chuck’s fondness for corny jokes, after I saw the video about the three priests, I sent him this bar joke – perhaps he will use it in the future….

A little variation with a computer reference..

“A priest, a minister and a rabbit walk into a bar and the rabbit says, “I think I may be a typo….” 

And finally, because I couldn’t resist, I leave you with just one more YouTube example.  Fr. Chuck sent this 2020 production to the Monastic Community, the AFO Board and the Abbey Staff by e-mail after Easter.

After a few months of the pandemic and lockdowns, people were looking for something light-hearted and positive and he accomplished that goal. He prefaced it with the following comment:

“While it’s still the Easter Season for a couple more days, I invite you all to take a look at an Easter video I put together. Just short of 6 minutes, it’s a spin on Pharrell Williams’ song, ‘Happy,’ from the 2013 movie, “Despicable Me 2.’ Pardon me if my ego is showing, but I’d be honored if you’d care to take a look.  Happy Easter!”

The reaction as you might expect was effusive and generated numerous thankful e-mail responses.  God bless you Fr. Chuck.  You are truly a Soul Man!  (Click on the center of the photo below)