Early Memories

Born, March 2, 1934, in Omak, Washington
Parents: Stephen and Reneldes Skylstad
Ordained to the Priesthood for the Diocese of Spokane on May 21, 1960
Appointed Bishop of Yakima February 22, 1977; installed on May 12, 1977
Appointed Bishop of Spokane on April 17, 1990; installed on April 27, 1990

Curriculum Vitae

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

My earliest memories of St Genevieve Parish go back to the late 1930’s when my mother and father (Reneldes and Steve) moved our family from Omak to the middle Methow Valley between Methow and Carlton (4 1/2 miles upriver from Methow). They bought an apple farm between McFarland and Gold Creeks, receiving irrigation water from Gold Creek. In those days my father was not Catholic (Norwegian Lutheran) although he always drove our family to Church and sat in the back pew. Ultimately our family grew to six children (William, Olene, Michael, Bertha Jean, Ron, and Steve) with me being the oldest.  Our farm including our family home was located on the highway.  So we knew a good many people in the valley as they waved or honked driving by.  Those momentary contacts included our pastors driving between Twisp and Sacred Heart Church in Brewster (the latter for which they also had responsibility for pastoral care.)

My mother from Minnesota German stock (St. Joseph near St. John’s Abbey) was a staunch Catholic in a valley where Catholics in those days were few and far between.  Dad (the eleventh of twelve children) had emigrated from Norway around 1929.  Our home was filled with religious pictures and was sometimes a place of prayer after supper when washing the dishes, we prayed the rosary.  Our pastors regularly stopped by for dinner, so we got to know them well.

My earliest memory of the priests was of Father Martin Soden.  He would periodically gather us Catholic children in the Methow area for a brief catechetical lesson.  I was especially impressed with his new Plymouth whose speedometer changed colors as the speed changed.  Interestingly, I never realized I would meet him again when I was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Yakima and he was a retired priest there.  He was caught in the establishment of the Diocese of Yakima in 1951 when part of the Spokane Diocese (and Seattle Archdiocese too) was cut off to form the new diocese.

During the war years (1940-1945) Father Raymond Klemmer, a young priest and a native of Philadelphia, became our pastor.  He was a talented priest, loved to cook (his favorite was baking ham with the cross cuts and cloves placed in the squares), didn’t like to drive on snowy roads, and could repair most anything.  I remember once when my mother who was the organist at Church, experienced a stuck organ key with the accompanying continuing sound.  Down Father Klemmer bounded from the altar, slammed his fist on the organ, and the sound stopped.  A quick repair!  Father Klemmer remained the pastor of the parish until I left for the seminary in the fall of 1948.  His gift to me as I left was a ball point pen in a gift case that resembled a case holding three tennis balls.  Those pens were really something new in those days.  By the way, the reason for my attending the Pontifical College Josephinum Seminary in Worthington (Columbus), Ohio, for twelve years was due to Father Klemmer.  He was an alumnus of the Josephinum, ordained in 1940.

In those days of the 1940’s and 50’s, there were no regular catechism classes in the parish.  However, every year two sisters from Spokane would hold classes for two weeks after the school year in early summer to prepare students for First Communion and Confirmation.  This time also provided the opportunity to teach some of us boys who were interested to serve Mass, especially learning to say the Latin responses.  I remember sitting on the front steps of the old church with Sister sitting between us patiently leading us through the responses again and again until we got them down.  That opened up a new chapter of church life for me, and I served Mass both in Twisp and in Brewster.  In fact, Mom, my uncle and aunt, (Ron and Dorothy Danzl), would go to the Stations of the Cross during Lent in Twisp on Wednesdays and Father Klemmer would pick me up on Fridays to serve as he went to Brewster to celebrate the stations there.  On one of those occasions heading toward Brewster, Father Klemmer ran into a deer outside of Pateros, disabling the car.  We hit the road but quickly were picked up by a generous passer-by and made it to the stations in Brewster on time.

The parish community in Twisp in those days was really quite small but very tight knit.  There was no parish hall, but after every Mass folks would gather on the parish steps to chat usually for the better part of fifteen minutes to half an hour.  This was community building time.  Lots of stories and lots of laughter… I remember one moment of humor as a parishioner passed out signs to stick on your car inside window to be careful how one handled cigarettes in the car.  The sign read: “Be modest; don’t throw your butt out this window”…the forerunner of Smokey the Bear.

I left home for the seminary in 1948.  As I reflect back over those early years, I will be forever grateful for how the parish community was so formational in my life.  The relationships, the witness of faith in a culture of the valley that wasn’t particularly religious, the beautiful countryside, the river all provided a backdrop of grace and blessing as I grew up.  And of course, the life of the parish…Sunday Mass, a community of faith, the pastors, yes even the bishop.

When I was confirmed by Bishop Charles White, the night was one of fear and trepidation.  The sisters who came for summer school tried their best in two weeks to prepare us.  The fear was that the bishop would ask each candidate for confirmation in front of the congregation questions about the catechism.  As the first one to be questioned, the bishop threw me a curve ball that wasn’t in the catechism.  “Young man, do you do everything for God?”  “No” I said, “not everything.”  “What don’t you do for God?”  My response, “Chopping wood.”  The Bishop:  “Who do you chop wood for?”  I told him:  “My dad.”  The congregation burst out laughing.  I was mortified.  I was confirmed.  And here I am, eighty-eight years old, the Holy Spirit still working on me.  I guess the anointing really took.