Brother Dann (left), Usher and Father Andy (Photo: Tom Wilmshurst)
Brother Dann also moves on
As a Catholic who has strayed and doesn’t make it to church very often, I’ve just recently gotten to know Father Andy even though I’ve lived in the Eastern Sierra for seven years.
Part of the process of being married by a Catholic priest is to meet with him several times before the wedding so that he can get to know you and your fiancé, and hopefully start the two of you off in the right direction. So, Father Andy’s been guiding my soon-to-be husband and me through these pre-marital discussions. Next weekend, we have the honor of being the last wedding he performs as the pastor of Mono County.
During all of our get-togethers two things have stuck out about this man: he loves what he does, and he is a genuine people person. Father Andy Dachauer, S.J., has more stories about people he’s met throughout his life than anyone else I’ve ever known. He loves to talk to individuals and drink them in.
Like the young student he advised during his teaching days in San Francisco who came running into the lecture hall to tell Father Andy, and everyone else in the room, that she was pregnant. Apparently his advice to relax and pull herself away from her studies and spend quality time with her husband each week had worked and she became pregnant after having tried for quite some time.
Then there’s the friend who’s an electrical engineer with many patents to his name but horrible luck in business. One of his businesses was raided by the FBI, while another led to a huge lawsuit. The friend keeps on trudging and trying again.
The list goes on and on and Father Andy relishes each tale as it slips off his tongue. I can only hope to be part of a story he tells one day.
“The people I meet that share the faith are the highlights in my life,” explained the 80-year old Jesuit priest from behind a desk covered with books, papers, and memos, and in between multiple phone calls and visitors coming to the door. “I love being a priest.”
On the verge of his retirement, Dachauer reflected on the many years he has spent with the people of Mono County, 27 of which he has been the pastor. He easily came to the conclusion that it was these people he would miss the most as he departs, even though he never wanted to meet them in the first place.
“I didn’t want to come here,” he quips. The Jesuit lifestyle, which is a religious order in Catholicism called the Society of Jesus (hence the S.J. after Andy’s name), revolves in great part around education and intellectualism. So not only is Father Andy a priest, he is also a scientist specializing in chemistry. He was teaching in San Francisco when he became assigned to the Eastern Sierra for the summer. He wrote a lengthy letter to his superiors explaining that they would ruin him as a teacher if they sent him away and then promptly received a letter right back saying thanks for your thoughts, but you’re going anyway.
Jesuit priests, it might be good to note, take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience when they are ordained, so Father Andy didn’t have much choice. He packed his bags and headed out to Lee Vining, where the parish head was headquartered at that
time, to help the pastor, Father Savage, for the summer.
Father Andy ended up spending 18 summers in the Eastern Sierra helping Father Savage. When the elder priest became ill and could hardly keep from passing out while at the altar giving mass, Andy and some others convinced him to have a hip replacement, which cured 95 percent of his pain.
“After his surgery I received a note on July 15 saying he would be able to return to the Eastern Sierra but would need to be on crutches for two months,” Andy says. “I immediately called my provincial [superior] and explained that someone would need to come help Father Savage because I would need to return to teaching after Labor Day.”
His provincial at the time, Jack Clark, asked if he had seen his mail yet.
“When I said no he said, ‘Father Savage won’t need help because you are the new pastor for the area’,” Andy says, still in disbelief.
He was officially appointed pastor of Mono County on Aug. 15, 1983, exactly 27 years to the day of when he will retire on Aug. 15, 2010.
“God sent me here and it’s been the greatest blessing I’ve ever had,” he explained. He claims that the Eastern Sierra is mainly a visitor’s parish; just as the town swells during holidays and peak season so does the church. It puts a huge smile on his face to see people on vacation still making the effort to attend mass. He has many return visitors and credits his science background as the reason why his sermons are well loved.
“The science helps color the sermons and make them understandable,” he says.
As he wraps up a life he’s known for so long, it’s no surprise that he feels a sadness and a bit of depression to be leaving the work that he still loves so much.
“I’ve still got a lot of zip for 80-years old,” he says. “I give four masses every Sunday and drive 110 miles to do so. [Mammoth, Lee Vining and Bridgeport make up his route.] I write a bulletin every week and I do most of the cooking around here,” he says, pointing around the rectory. “I never wanted to be carried out of here, but I do still want to work.”
Once again, however, the vow of obedience has come into play. Andy’s superior, the bishop, called him up one day and told him he had to retire.
“He said that he as bishop has to retire at 75 so at 80 I should definitely be retiring,” Andy says.
He remains optimistic however, even as he heads to a retirement home in Los Gatos, near San Francisco. Often things he hasn’t wanted seem to have worked out for the best. There is a shortage of priests at this time, so he figures he will be able to fill in for priests out sick or on vacation. He also has his eye on the Trinity Alps in Oregon, which is a town that has similar challenges to Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra.
“No one wants to go there because it is too remote,” Andy says. “I’d be willing to go up there, but if I get the job I would want to take Dann because we’re a team.”
Brother Dann Corona S.J. is Father Andy’s helper and friend who arrived at the parish a mere two years after Father Andy was appointed as pastor.
“Dann didn’t want to come here either, he was assigned,” Andy explains. “I got a call from the provincial in 1985 asking if I would like a helper. I slept on it and then called him back to say that I had enough work for a helper until 1992 and by then I would have thought of more.”
Brother Dann cannot give sacraments or say mass, he just chose to live the lifestyle of a Jesuit, which is why he is a Brother and not a Father. He has become known around Mammoth for his great work with the Hispanic population as well as his great decorating skills within the church. As Father Andy retires, Dann will be relocated to St. Agnes parish in San Francisco.
The two men have seen a lot over the years and when they leave their posts this month it will mark the end of an historic era.
“Jesuit priests have been serving this area since 1939 and now we will be leaving,” Andy explained.
While both priests work for the Roman Catholic Church, the new priest, Father Paul Boudreau from Connecticut is a Diocesan priest, not a Jesuit. One of the main differences between the two types of priests, according to Father Andy is that a Diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty. This means a Diocesan has to worry about his own retirement, car or whatever else he may need. Also, Diocesans are not a religious order and answer directly to the bishop of the area.
Father Andy is unsure how the new pastor will run the parish or what it will mean to parishioners.
“I’ve never met the new pastor so I have no idea how it is going to be,” he explained. All he knows is that he retires on Aug. 15 and Father Boudreau is appointed on Aug. 16. However, Father Andy will still be around for another two weeks packing his belongings and preparing for the new chapter in his life.
“Something will happen, God’s not gonna dump us,” he said.
A special mass will be held in celebration of Father Andy’s retirement on Aug. 15.