When Father Sylvan Rouse was a young priest, people would want to talk about what was troubling them when they came to make their confessions to him, so he would tell them to stop by his house later to talk.
That's what first gave him the idea that he should spend his life helping people, not as a parish priest, but as a spiritual director. In that role, he could help people figure out what direction God wanted them to take in their lives. It was something he would spend the next 40 years doing, and he would touch the lives of countless people, from nearby to across the country and in all walks of life.
On Saturday, about 100 people gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Altoona to say goodbye to Rouse.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Deacon Gene Neral (left) of St. John the Evangelist Church and Bishop Emeritus Joseph V. Adamec (right) spend time with Father Sylvan Rouse at his farewell celebration.
The 91-year-old spiritual director is leaving his home at St. Mary's House of Solitude in Bedford because of failing physical health, although he is mentally very alert.
A member of the Passionist Community, he will live at the retreat house in Jamaica, N.Y., where he said he will still serve as a spiritual director and hear confessions.
"It's been a privilege to have been on this personal journey with you,'' Rouse told the people gathered to the farewell reception. "I will never forget you and I will always be with you.''
People he has guided during the years, including many members of the clergy led by Bishop Emeritus Joseph Adamec, spoke about Rouse's impact on their lives.
"He's sort of a personal mentor who helps you make decisions in your spiritual life,'' said Adamec, who has known Rouse for 25 years.
The crowd included the young, the old and the in-between, most with a story to tell about Rouse. Some said he had helped them decide whether or not to get married, but they added Rouse never would tell them specifically how to act in a specific situation.
"He doesn't really tell you what to do, he just leads you in the right direction,'' said Brian Barcaro, who lives part of the time in Altoona but also lives in Pittsburgh where his wife works. Barcaro credits the priest with helping him make the final step toward marriage.
It's the same story with Josie Morgano of Pittsburgh.
She said some of her prayers with Rouse were answered when her fiance Matthew Craig, also of Pittsburgh, came into her life. She said Rouse taught her to see God in all things, even when things happen that are bad.
"He [Rouse] showed me that when you do that, you draw closer to God,'' she said.
Craig came with her to the reception.
Rouse said he counsels people to accept the will of God in their lives, but then if something bad happens, they should pray that God will help them defeat the evil that does exist in the world. He said people should try to emulate Jesus who accepted God's will in dying on the cross, even though it meant a painful, harsh death.
"Saying yes is not saying yes to the evil that is there,'' he said. "They need to believe that the Holy Spirit will help them overcome that evil.''
Jeffrey Wright, a missionary from St. Joseph's Missions in the Diocese of Greensburg, has stayed with Rouse since last September to help care for him.
Wright had experience working with older people because he has done missionary work in nursing homes before.
Wright said on average about two or three people a day would stop by to see Rouse for spiritual direction.
They came from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C. ,and even California. Often they came for a 40-day retreat at the house, most often members of the clergy and usually Catholic, but some Protestant ministers and a few laypersons came for a retreat.
"He helps them discern God's will,'' Wright said. "He wants us to discover what God's will is for our lives.''
Another person who attended the reception honoring Rouse said when he met the priest 18 years ago, he was at first struck by the hot tea Rouse offered him and the interesting house.
But those weren't the things that would keep Bob Muldoon of Hollidaysburg making a regular trip to Bedford to see Rouse.
"I knew God was with me in that room,'' he said. "A man of Christ was with me.''
Muldoon expressed the feelings of the crowd when he told the priest, "You make us feel loved.''