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From Marine Corps to the Priesthood

by: Photo By Susan Matheny - Father Andrew Colvin has a collection of religious lcons, and wrote the icon of St. John the Baptist he is holding.


   Andrew Colvin had completed Marine Corps basic and combat training and was on the verge of entering a military career, when a trip back to Oregon resulted in a decision that put him on a path toward the priesthood.
   Currently the priest at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Madras, the 35-year-old Father Colvin grew up in Baker City as the youngest in a family of five children. Both his parents had military backgrounds. His father was a jet fighter pilot in the Marine Corps and retired as a lieutenant colonel, while his mother was a Navy nurse. She later earned a master's degree in nursing and taught nursing classes for Oregon Health and Science University on the Eastern Oregon University campus, and earned a Ph.d. in educational leadership before retiring.
   Colvin was raised in the Catholic church and remembers Father Mike Miles, a friend of the family, would always be there to bless their holiday meals during his childhood.
   After graduating from Baker High School, Colvin attended Southwest Community College in Coos Bay for one year, then in 1988 moved to Corvallis and began working with mentally-handicapped adults in a group home, while also taking pre-engineering classes at Oregon State University.
   In 1993, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves, intending to finish his degree and get into the officer's program. But the summer of that year, he also attended World Youth Day in Denver, where the Pope appeared in person.
   "It was a very powerful experience and made a huge impression on me," Colvin said, noting he had thought about the priesthood in childhood, but then went through a period between the ages of 19 and 21 of not practicing his faith.
   While contemplating his future, he completed Marine Corps basic training, combat training, and attended 10 months of ground radio repair and electronics school in California, graduating in October 1994.
   After graduation he returned to Oregon for a visit, coincidentally arriving in Baker City on the same day that his friend Father Rob Irwin (formerly of Madras) was being ordained as a deacon.
   Father Mike Miles was also in town and while talking to him Colvin made a confession. "I told him I'd been running from a possible call to the priesthood, and finally had the courage to respond," he said. Fr. Miles encouraged him, saying he had always hoped Colvin or his brother would be interested in the priesthood.
   After coming to that realization, Colvin said, everything began to fall into place. He entered Mt. Angel Seminary in January 1995, completing a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy, then entered a five-year theology program, also at Mt. Angel. During his studies, he spent nine months gaining pastoral experience at St. Mary's Church in Pendleton. He also did clinical pastoral education in Pittsfield, Mass., at Berkshire Medical Center, where he helped patients and family members of a variety of faiths deal with crisis situations.
   He graduated with a master of divinity, and a master of arts and theology degree, and was ordained a priest on May 31, 2002, at the cathedral in Baker City.
   Training to be a chaplain with the Oregon National Guard had been part of his studies, but due to the need for priests in the Eastern and Central Oregon area, he was not endorsed to be a chaplain.
   Colvin's first assignment was Our Lady of Angels Church in Hermiston, where he was the assistant to Father Joe Reinig.
   "That Parrish is the second largest in our diocese; the largest is in Bend," he said.
   The Hermiston congregation had 1,100 families, 60 percent of which were Hispanic, and being bilingual, he said most of his ministry was done in Spanish.
   After 2 1/2 years in Hermiston, Colvin arrived in Madras Oct. 22, to serve as the priest for the English, Hispanic and Warm Springs congregations.
   In addition to conducting Mass six days a week, and his other church duties, Father Colvin intends to be active in the community as well.
   He said the church has a small food bank to help people in need. Being strongly pro-life he has been involved in Project Rachel, an outreach to help women who have had abortions to deal with post-traumatic stress. He would also like to get involved in local domestic violence programs and the ministerial association.
   When he has any spare time, Colvin said he enjoys camping, fishing, swimming, skiing and reading, especially spiritual works.
   Another passion, which combines both his professional and personal interests, is the collection of religious icons (images of sacred Christian personages painted on wooden panels).
   "I am Roman Catholic, but my spirituality is Byzantine," he said, explaining that of the five original Catholic traditions, the Byzantine tradition originated in Constantinople. Greek and Russian Catholic churches have their roots in that style of worship, which uses ornate crosses and icons.
   "I enjoy icons. They are called `windows into heaven' and their use as symbols of peaceful prayer and contemplation is very appealing to me," Colvin said.
   Comparing western and eastern spirituality, Colvin noted western spirituality is very practical, and detail-oriented, with an emphasis on fixing problems and getting results.
   "Eastern spirituality embraces the mystical nature of God, has a sense that we aren't in complete control -- He is in control -- and contemplative prayer is emphasized," Colvin said.
   The two-dimensional icon images aren't supposed to look realistic, but are symbolic and convey a sense of peacefulness and otherworldliness, he said.
   When talking about icons, it is said people "write an icon" not paint them, because icons are considered the word of God in image form, he said, noting people fast and pray before writing one.
   While studying at Mt. Angel, Colvin took an iconography course and has written seven icons himself, including one of St. John the Forerunner and has almost completed one of St. Michael the Archangel.
   Colvin plans to display his collection of icons in a small chapel of the church where church members can use them for prayer and contemplation.
   In the ornate Byzantine churches of Europe, a lot of gold is used and the front alter is covered with icons of saints, angels and members of the Holy Family -- all positioned to focus in toward the icon of Christ.
   "It's like you're entering a heavenly place," Colvin observed.