Meet the Chaplain: Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith – Portland Chapter
LATE VOCATION SPAWNED FROM LONG CAREER AS FUNERAL DIRECTOR
At an age when many adults begin to see retirement on the horizon, Father Andrew Spyrow began a new life as a Catholic priest.
Father Spyrow, 58, was ordained in 2014 after a long career as a funeral director. He is the new pastor of St. Raphael Church, a mission church founded in December 1817 — the 20th mission in the 21-mission chain in Alta, California.
Father Spyrow is chaplain to Legatus’ new chapter in San Francisco, as well as the San Rafael Police Department. He recently spoke with Legatus magazine.
When did you know you wanted to become a priest?
It was actually something I had wanted to do since I was a little boy. My parents sent me to Catholic school from first grade all the way through college. I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and also the De La Salle Christian Brothers. I can recall when I was in the first grade one of the priests from the parish who came over to the school to visit the kids, and I was so impressed that I knew then that’s what I wanted to be.
Why was your calling a “late vocation?”
This is a late vocation for me because I was a funeral director for over 25 years, but I always knew I had a vocation. And I give my parents, who recently passed and were married for 72 ½ years, a lot of credit with my vocation.
What made you decide to “take the leap” and enter the seminary?
A lot of my friends were De La Salle Christian Brothers and priests. As a funeral director, I worked a lot with parishes, so I got to know a lot of the Catholic priests in the archdiocese. There just came a point in my life where I had mastered my craft as a funeral director and I thought I could use my God-given talents for the Church. So I went in to see if I really had a vocation, and after seven years in the seminary, voilà.
Was there a spiritual dimension to being a funeral director?
Definitely. I graduated from college with a degree in business administration and religious studies. Going into the funeral business, I realized that it was really being on the cusp of this world joined to the next world. Death is such a mystery and it calls for a compassionate person to be with those families that may not know what next steps to take.
How did you come to be acquainted with Legatus?
With my background in business, the archbishop called me into his office and asked me if I would be the chaplain of Legatus. I didn’t know too much about Legatus at the time, but after talking to him and reading about it, I told him I’d be very happy to be involved in such a great organization.
What have been some of your early impressions of Legatus?
They have excellent speakers, who talk about what’s going on in the world today, and which allow Legatus members who are very influential in the community to be able to get a good Catholic insight into the human condition, and also as their roles as ambassadors in the marketplace.
Does your business background help you in your role as a Legatus chaplain?
That, plus my late vocation, has really helped me because I can help families where they’re at, as opposed to someone in their 20s who hasn’t lived in the world yet as a grown adult. I’m able to relate and able to listen, to be a ministry of presence to those around in every circumstance.
What is it like being the pastor of a California mission?
I meet people from all over the world, and it’s great to explain the purpose of this mission here, which was a hospital originally and built because the mission in San Francisco was in a cold environment. And I enjoy talking to student groups that come here for reports because I can tell them things that they may not come across in their research.