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Priest's roots run deep on Tulalip reservation

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By Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
An eloquent speaker used English to memorialize the Tulalip Tribes' last native speaker of Lushootseed, the traditional language of Puget Sound area Indians.
The Rev. Patrick Twohy, at a service Monday, described 95-year-old Marya Moses this way: "She was like the most giant cedar. She had her roots deep in her culture."
He isn't an American Indian, but Twohy also has roots on the Tulalip Reservation, and with the Swinomish Tribe. A Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, Twohy has divided his time between the Tulalip and Swinomish people for two decades.
Until recently, he lived on the Swinomish Reservation near La Conner. Twohy is beginning a new ministry built on relationships and knowledge cultivated throughout his career. Now living with the Jesuit community at Seattle University, he'll focus on the needs of urban Indians.
"I've been very fortunate to be allowed to live with them, to go to the ceremonies, and to learn a wisdom that I cherish," Twohy said.
Born and raised in Yakima, he was trained at the Jesuit Novitiate in Sheridan, Ore., and at Mount St. Michael's in Spokane. Twohy, 67, taught at Bellarmine Preparatory School, a Jesuit high school in Tacoma.
He was in campus ministry at Gonzaga University in Spokane until 1973, when a summer on the Colville Indian Reservation became an entree to a life with Northwest tribes.
"I was supposed to go back to Gonzaga, but decided I wanted to ask to stay there with the people. I never really turned back," Twohy said.
At graduation in May, Gonzaga University found a way to thank him for years of service. Twohy was honored with an honorary doctor of law degree and was a commencement speaker.
Part of a citation read at the ceremony said, "Elders from the Colville, Tulalip, Lummi, Upper Skagit, Swinomish and Snohomish tribal communities all agree on one thing: Father Pat Twohy has an Indian soul, walks the talk of Jesus Christ, and is a holy man."
In 2005, I attended the funeral of John "Gabe" Gobin, a Tulalip elder. Twohy officiated in a beautiful blending of the Catholic Mass and tribal traditions. Last week, he talked of how he embraces both customs.
"I grew up with a Catholic grandma and a Methodist grandma," Twohy said. "I realized from my earliest years that there's more than one way of seeing the world. Anyone was welcome at our home and table equally. It's a world view that I treasure."
Twohy is the author of two books, "Finding a Way Home: Indian & Catholic Spiritual Paths of the Plateau Tribes" and "Beginnings: Meditations on Coast Salish Lifeways." Both are tributes to wisdom he encountered among tribal elders.
"What I found in the elders, they had woven in their lives both the old ways and the Catholic ways. They had woven them together in a beautiful manner, the same way someone would braid their hair, braiding different strands together into one braid," Twohy said.
Twohy acknowledged that the Catholic Church was cruel in its early dealings with Indians, putting children into boarding schools, cutting their hair and banning native languages.
"The messengers who brought the stories about Jesus were certainly very human, flawed people. They thought only in terms of their own European or European-American culture. The residential schools were a very, very difficult experience for native people.
"Yet they always seemed to be able to look beyond the messengers, and to realize the goodness of Jesus," he said.
From a base at Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in south Seattle, Twohy will bring his message to Indians in the city. Twohy has been appointed parochial vicar of the Seattle church, a position he held at St. Paul Parish near La Conner. He'll work with two organizations, the Chief Seattle Club and in Tacoma, the Mount Tahoma Indian Center.
The homeless problem, he said, "is big." Twohy said a young priest, the Rev. Denis Donoghue, will focus on the Tulalip and Swinomish reservations. "I will concentrate on the urban Indian scene," he said.
Because of his experience in bridging cultures, I asked Twohy about a controversial speech by Pope Benedict XVI regarding Islam. The pope mentioned a medieval text that linked Muslims and violence.
"I wouldn't want to comment on the pope, and I feel incapable of commenting on Islam. It hasn't been my opportunity to live with them," he said.
Twohy said that from childhood, he was encouraged by his mother to read the writings of many religions. "It didn't take away from your own beliefs, it enriched your beliefs," he said.
"I feel personally that where we can meet one another is in kindness," Twohy said. "We all come from a great kindness."
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

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