Born in Longview, Wash., on Oct. 31, 1939, he was abandoned by his father, a house painter and farmer, whom his mother repeatedly took to court in fruitless attempts to gain child support.
“He wasn’t abusive; he just left us, and it hurts so badly,” he said. “That’s the essence of it all: I wanted to become a priest to help other kids so they wouldn’t suffer and hurt like I did.”
While still a boy, he left home to join Roman Catholic Redemptorist seminaries in Oakland, Calif., and in Oconomowoc, Wis.
After ordination, he recalled the thrill of preaching his first sermon in a tiny wooden church in South Dakota that had been built by his Irish relatives and seated just 40 people.
“That’s a very important moment for a priest,” he said, pointing to a small framed black-and-white photograph of the church hanging on a wall above his dining table.
When he arrived in Thailand in 1967, on his assigned mission by the Redemptorists, he was first dispatched to the far northeastern part of the country and to Laos. Returning to Bangkok in 1971, after war came to Laos, he was reassigned to Klong Toey, almost as far out of sight as if he had been in the distant highlands.
“The priest there was drunk,” he said, “and I replaced him there, as a drunk and a priest.”
In Klong Toey, he met a Catholic nun, Sister Maria Chantavarodom, now 92, who led him through the narrow lanes and joined him in founding the tiny school in a former pigsty.