RED LODGE — A Catholic priest shortage means that Columbus-based pastor Father Navil Rodrigues must drive hundreds of miles to cover parishes in Columbus, Absarokee, and Red Lodge.
That will change after a Red Lodge couple gifted St. Agnes Catholic Church a new rectory, giving Father Navil a semi-permanent home in their community.
From St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Columbus to St. Agnes in Red Lodge, Father Navil has a vast and sprawling flock.
“I go around 400 miles a week between three churches just for the spiritual needs,” said Father Navil on Sunday.
The number of priests nationwide is down 60% in the last 50 years, which means pastors across the state are spread thin.
“That’s why we take care of two or three churches and it’s not only me. There are so many other priests that do the same in this dioceses,” Father Navil said.
The pastor has been at this commute for six years now through hot summers and icy winters.
“It’s really challenging during winter, driving early in the morning or late in the evening. And all kinds of wild all around,” said Father Navil.
“It’s a horribly impractical set of circumstances,” said St. Agnes parishioner, John Radick.
Father Navil’s treks didn’t go unnoticed by John and Martha Radick, who’ve lived in Red Lodge part time for the past 21 years.
“Our son and daughter in law are living there on a full-time basis. They’re permanently there and we wanted to reach out and do something because of all of the impact it’s made on us,” John said.
That’s why the Radicks have gifted St. Agnes Church a new rectory, giving Father Navil a place to stay at least three days out of the week.
“John asked him, well what do you think? And he just looked at the window and looked at the view and said yes. And John said, well you haven’t seen the whole place yet and he said yes,” said Martha.
The gift to St. Agnes is also a gift to the Red Lodge community.
“This is so that we are able to have a really great place for our priest, whoever it might be, to stay and live. And so, this is something that is intended to stay within the community and for the community to have the ability to build on that,” John said.
It’s something appreciated by fellow parishioners, Matt and Danielle Underhill.
“That’s a huge donation for anyone and to give it to our church and to Father Navil, it’s a beautiful gift. And for our whole parish moving forward, the years to come. I see Red Lodge growing and I think that’s going to be an important factor to our town,” Matt said.
And Father Navil is excited for what’s to come.
“It’s wonderful for a priest, especially for a priest because a priest is a man of prayer. It’s a beautiful site for praying,” said Father Navil.