You don't know lonely until you are sent to rural Utah to build up the Catholic Church.
The Rev. Joseph Valine has spent nearly half a century in the realm of loneliness, dotting its vastness with one parish after another. He came to Utah the day President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan, responding to a call for priests to work in the missions of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.His task must have seemed as daunting as the war against that angry empire. It has lasted 43 years longer . . . and the clock still ticks.
"I want death to find me planting my cabbages," Montaigne declared four centuries ago. The Rev. Valine wants it to find him in Utah, building up his parishes.
The Rev. Valine turns 91 this month, but he isn't expecting death any time soon. He is slowing but refuses to stop. He frequently tells people he wants to live at least until the year 2,000, when he will be 103 years old.
His years are rich with tangible accomplishments. Four church steeples pierce Utah skies because the Rev. Valine was here. He raised money for and supervised the construction of churches in Bryce Canyon, Kanab and Milford. "I'm now building a church in Panguitch," he said.
The Rev. Valine has been based in Milford since 1948. Each week, he travels through southern Utah offering Mass to park visitors and Utah's sparse Catholic population. He says Mass every week in the national parks of the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon and the towns of Beaver, Kanab and Panguitch.
He estimates that he has logged 2 million miles in the service of the church.
"In these little places, there were no churches and few Catholics, but I felt the need to establish a place for them so that the people would know these Catholics existed and that the church was here to stay," he said.
The Rev. Valine's parishes were poor. The parishioners didn't have the money to build the churches they badly needed, so the Rev. Valine set about raising it. He first tried farming 260 acres of alfalfa, selling the hay to local farmers. Then he became Milford's caterer. When those jobs became too taxing, he turned to doughnuts.
The Rev. Valine makes "Father's Doughnuts," which he sells after Sunday Mass at St. Dominic's Mission in Bryce Canyon. The pastries have earned him the name "Doughnut Priest."
The Rev. Valine was honored recently with the 1988 Home Mission Award. The Extension Society, a Papal organization which raises funds for Catholic mission work in poor, isolated areas of the United States, presents the award each year to the person who best exemplifies the missionary spirit of the Catholic Church in America.
The society has also given the Rev. Valine money in the past to build his churches.
The Most Rev. William Weigand, bishop of Salt Lake City Diocese, nominated the Rev. Valine. "This good priest is a model for all,' the Rev. Weigand said. "He is fully alive at age 90, and his love of the Lord and his people is contagious."
The Rev. Valine has found that rarest of crowns for a long life: "No regrets whatsoever."
It's been a hard life, the Rev. Valine said. "It is lonely." He staves off loneliness by inviting exchange students from Mexico to live with him. The students help him drive to all of his Masses on Sunday.
The Rev. Valine is saddened that few ever choose a career in the priesthood, but understands why. "There are too many opportunities in the secular life: engineering, medicine and law. Young men turn to those things rather than the priesthood.
The Rev. Valine began studying the priesthood when he was 25. He was ordained at 32. He entered the priesthood because of a close friendship with a priest.
"He persuaded me that my life was in the priesthood. I took his word for it and here I am."
The Rev. Valine's parishes rely on people moving in for their growth. "We have very few conversions to the Catholic Church because of the prominence of other religions in the state."
The Rev. Valine doesn't seem to mind. His heart has turned to a bigger conversion.
He dwells on the promise that Catholics believe the Virgin Mary made to three young children during a 1917 appearance near Fatima, Portugal.
"She promised that if the people adhere to what she was teaching, especially the rosary, Russia would be converted," the Rev. Valine said.
The Rev. Valine yearns for that conversion.
"Things are looking very favorable to that end," he said. He faithfully follows the instructions she gave in 1917, saying the rosary every day.
He also wants to live long enough to see all religions under one pope.
That ecumenical movement is already taking place, he said happily.
While the Rev. Valine waits for the big dreams to come true, he works daily on his smaller dreams. He has 15 Catholic families in Milford. He holds Mass for them each day.
He also offers a Mass Saturday evening. Sunday morning, he drives to Panguitch and Pink Cliffs, offering a Mass at each stop.
At the end of the Mass at Pink Cliffs, he puts out a basket of the now-famous doughnuts.