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Archives Father Chapin: Sharing Christ in the missions

Oct. 9, 2019

Editor’s note: Pope Francis has declared October Extraordinary Missionary Month. The theme of the celebration is “Baptized and Sent.” As part of the Extraodinary Missionary Month, the North Country Catholic will be featuring stories of missionary efforts originating in our diocese throughout the month. The following is part of that series.

By Darcy Fargo

NORTH BANGOR – Sitting inside St. Augustine’s Church in North Bangor, Father Daniel L. Chapin, a diocesan priest currently serving as a missionary with Maryknoll Fathers, said it was here that he found his foundation in faith and missionary work.CHpain

“This is where I was spiritually born,” he said, gesturing around the small church. “I celebrated all my sacraments of initiation right here in this very building. I celebrated my first Mass here after I was ordained. We’ve had many family celebrations here – weddings, funerals, baptisms and more. In every celebration, we’re told to ‘go and spread the good news.’ There’s always that sending forth.”

Father Chapin said his parents were a “mixed marriage” – his mother was Catholic, while his father was raised Methodist, though he didn’t regularly practice his faith.

“My mother raised us – four kids – as devout Catholics,” he said. “I always give credit to her for her devout faith and for raising us in the faith.”

In addition, Father Chapin said he was inspired to service in his youth by a teacher at St. Joseph’s School in Malone, Sister Veronica.

“I started my education at the old, one-room schoolhouse on Route 11,” he said. “The teacher was all alone teaching the whole school, and she was a farmer. She had to get up early and do farm chores, then she had to get in her purple car and drive to the school, open the school and get the heat going. She was often very tired during the day, especially at the end of the day. She couldn’t teach us everything. When I went to St. Joe’s, I could print well, but I couldn’t do cursive.”

It was Sister Veronica who helped him catch up to his classmates.

“God bless her, between classes or in classes, she would come to my desk and teach me cursive writing,” Father Chapin said. “She spent a lot of time with me in fifth grade. She was this frail, little woman with a beautiful smile and beautiful attitude. She was filled with joy. I thought to myself, ‘this is the kind of person I want to be.’ She dedicated so much extra time with me. That was the first time I had a concept that I want to do in life what she was doing: I wanted to help people like she helped me.”

It was shortly after that experience that he began to consider the priesthood. Shortly before he graduated from high school, the diocese started its mission in Mollendo, Peru.

“I was probably 16, and I remember reading in the North Country Catholic the early stories from the first two missionaries and seeing the photos they sent back,” Father Chapin said. “At that point, every night before I went to bed, I would stand by a window looking up at the night sky and read the Gospels. I remember reading the Gospel of Matthew, ‘go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ I remember that was the moment I decided I wanted to be a missionary.”

After his ordination in 1972, Father Chapin served at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg for four years before leaving for the diocesan mission in Mollendo.

“We were expected to serve five years,” he said. “I loved it so much, I stayed 10.”

In 1986, he returned to the diocese, spending the next several decades serving in parishes around the North Country.

“I was only 29 when I left for Mollendo and Peru,” he said. “I celebrated my 30th birthday in the jungles of Santa Cruz. I came back at 40. I served as a pastor until I was 70. I always knew I wanted to go back to the mission field.”

At 70, Father Chapin requested permission from Bishop Terry R. LaValley to retire from parish work with the intent of returning to mission work.

“The usual age is 75,” he said. “There was no guarantee he would accept my retirement. But I think everyone knew my heart for the missions. I wanted to go work with Maryknoll. They have a priest associate program for diocesan priests who want to serve the missions. I knew Maryknollers from my time in Peru. I knew they wanted priests with experience and language knowledge.”

Bishop LaValley granted Father Chapin permission to retire to serve in the missions.

After a month of orientation and education sessions with Maryknoll, Father Chapin was assigned to Cochabamba, Bolivia. There, he serves as an assistant in a large parish. He performs “pastoral work, spiritual work, sacramental ministry.”

“There’s a university hospital on the parish grounds,” he said. “We visit the hospital, we visit homes. We do parish work.”

He said he’s seen the view of missionary work change as he’s served in various missionary capacities.

“Previously, missionaries were sharing more abut their own cultures and nations than the good news,” he said.

“There was a nationalistic, colonial approach. Now, it’s about sharing Christ and the good news of the Gospels, not our cultures.”

After several weeks back in the North Country this summer, Father Chapin returned to Bolivia in September.

“I just completed the third year of my five-year contract,” he said. “The years go fast. I’m beginning the process of discerning what’s next for me. I’m listening, and I’m observing.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Father Chapin said he feels blessed to have been able to spread the love of Christ as a missionary.

“Mission work exemplifies that we are Catholic and universal,” he said. “I’m a North American present in South America. Here in our diocese, we have religious personnel from other countries coming to minister here. There are always challenges, things like language barriers and cultural differences, but that’s the expression of our Catholicity. We’re all part of the same Church.”

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