Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 15, 1999
A Vocation of Hope
Fr. Bob Colburn uses priesthood to share God's love
By CHARLES GAL
Special to the WCR
For Father Bob Colburn of St. Theresa's Parish in Millwoods, the meaning of priesthood is about giving hope to people through the sharing of God's love.
"Hope. It's what people everywhere hunger for today. You can't accept love without that belief. It's not so much about answers; they need hope that God is with them, that the community is with them."
Offering hope, said Colburn, doesn't stop at the parish level. He also visits parishioners in nursing homes and hospitals offering them Christ's love through his presence, in effect taking the spreading of hope outside of the church's walls and into the world around him.
And, that's no small feat for the pastor of the largest parish in the archdiocese.
The calling to the priesthood began as a whisper during Colburn's youth. Eventually, the whisper turned into a calling with conviction.
As the son of a farm equipment salesman, he grew up in many small towns in Saskatchewan. But Colburn remained active in the Church serving as a reader and altar server.
When he was 12 and living in Prince Albert, Sask., his father died. The following years were hard on his mother, but she wouldn't complain or show despair. It was at home that he first began to understand the need and the power of hope.
She was always able "to make a bad situation look good" by focusing on what blessings they had, not which ones they had lost.
Colburn graduated as a teacher from the University of Saskatchewan in 1974 and after teaching a few years he went to Africa as a volunteer with the Spiritans, the order to which he now belongs. There, he taught two years in Kenya and another two in Gambia.
Colburn knew one thing: he wanted to give of himself to people. But how could he best do that?
In Gambia, Colburn's calling to the priesthood strengthened. In a conversation with a friend he recalls vividly, he was offered this advice: doctors save lives, teachers educate, but only priests can truly take people to God. And without God, there is no point to anything else.
Following his return to Canada, Colburn went back to university and earned a master's degree in theology. In 1989, he was ordained to the priesthood.
For Colburn, dealing with family difficulties, the problems faced by single parent and the needs of the hungry are important ways of giving hope to those who desperately need it.
St. Theresa's also operates the only food bank in Millwoods.
"It's not only about giving food, but also it's about giving hope to those who may feel unloved by the larger society."
Almost a year has gone by since the 47-year-old Colburn took over St. Theresa's Parish. The transition to the largest parish in the archdiocese (about 3,500 families) was difficult but successful.
"There are so many people asking 'What can I do father?' That's how I've survived."
At St. Theresa's, Colburn will perform about 300 Baptisms, 250 First Communions, 50 to 65 weddings and 30 to 40 funerals a year.
On Saturday mornings he hears Confession. On Sunday, he celebrates two of four Masses, and one on each weekday morning.
"It's important that I be here for people. I need to be available as much as possible."
Colburn admits priests are faced with many challenges, including loneliness, "workaholism" and becoming distant from the people they serve.
The support he's received from Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, other priests and parishioners maintains his enthusiasm.
"I don't think anyone can be a priest without being cared for. I think people have learned how to care for priests in their parishes."
Colburn believes that many men today hesitate to join the priesthood for fear of "what is on the other side of the door."
"They need to step through (the door) and know that God is there," he said.