PESHAWBESTOWN — Father Andy Buvala won’t say goodbye Sunday when he finishes his last service at the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha church.
“Indian language has no word for goodbye,” said the 93-year-old priest as he rocked slowly in his office chair. “I don’t know what I’ll say.”
The elderly Catholic priest has worked in the tiny congregation north of Suttons Bay for more than 30 years. He will reluctantly leave the community Sunday to retire in Wisconsin.
For two weeks the experienced orator worked and reworked his last message for the community he joined as an outsider and will leave as family.
“The way he ministers to the people, that will be a tremendous loss,” said Barbara Kennison of Traverse City. “And I think that loss goes both ways.”
Kennison has known Buvala for 28 years and says he is the reason she continues to make the 30-minute drive each Sunday morning to attend his services. His committment to his congregation has been shown by countless trips to the airport to help welcome members home and special arrangements he has made to provide services.
Buvala has been known especially for his willingness to adjust his services to accommodate Native American culture.
He recalls one of his first interactions with a member of the community when he arrived in the early 1980s. The woman, a community matriarch, challenged the 60-year-old priest. She asked how long he would be staying since the church had seen a perpetual rotation of new priests during the decades.
It was a challenge he responded to with his actions.
“I don’t think words mean too much,” he said. “That’s a commodity, that’s cheap.”
Outside the church, Buvala recalls the landscape when he first moved into the attic apartment above the church. There were few trees and even fewer tombstones in the cemetery that borders the backside of the building.