?A priest and a guidance counselor walk into a Chinese restaurant ? sounds like an intriguing opening to a joke. Instead, it is an accurate way to describe how I spent a Friday night devouring a chicken and broccoli dinner at the Empire Palace in McCandless while interviewing one of our region ?s most influential spiritual leaders, the esteemed Father Scott Seethaler.
Rather than be put off at the suggestion that he (a respected man of the cloth) meet up with me for some Chinese food, as the neon fluorescent lighting glistened back from the watchful eyes of a spectacularly rotund statue of Buddha, Father Scott ?s quick affirmative and his openness to meet with me in this unusual environment is absolutely indicative of the helpful, caring, and humorous approach that he takes to life, his Faith, and his preaching. As we spoke and I found him both quick to laugh and quick to listen, I had no problem understanding how Father Scott ?s resources, retreats, radio ministry, and his newsletters have helped people of the Pittsburgh area, across the nation, and even as far as Oaxaca, Mexico. A conversation with Father Scott will keep you on your toes as he very successfully uses humor to illustrate his points. An example, showing his savvy for our area’s roadway designs:
?I ?m not able to say for sure, but I have some knowledge in this matter and it is rather likely that whoever designed the Fort Pitt Bridge and its merge points is burning in hell. ?
?I ?m just a Pittsburgh boy from the South Side Slopes, ? Father Scott professed. However, my research had already uncovered that this Capuchin Franciscan Preacher with 45 years of globe-trotting missionary work was a personal friend of former Mayor Bob O ?Conner, was the organizer of the highly popular ?3WS Oldies Mass ? that ran for nine sold out years, and was the recipient of the Communication and Leadership Award from District 13 of Toastmasters International. Despite his extensive global travels, Pittsburgh is never quite that far away for Father Scott as he told me that ?Everywhere I go I run into people that tell me, ?Boy, I hate Pittsburgh ?s weather, but I met the nicest people there. ? or ?Your roads are the worst, but Pittsburghers are the friendliest. It happens in the oddest corners of the world. ?
Ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1969, Father Scott ?s Capuchin-Franciscan Order encourages their brothers to consider their own personal talents and explore options that include serving as a parish priest, but are not limited to that traditional assignment. While he has taught high school in both Pennsylvania and Maryland, and college students at Slippery Rock University and Duquesne University, it is clear that Father Scott ?s calling to work as a preacher and motivational speaker throughout the United States and across the world is what inspires his thousands of monthly subscribers to his bi-monthly newsletter. Whether he accepts it or not, Father Scott is essentially a rock star in both religious and public forums concerning issues of stress, personal and professional excellence, and family values. Father Scott states, ?I think people would be particularly surprised that I ?ve spoken to over 40 different school districts during faculty in-service as the topics I discuss are common to all human beings. ? Quite a buzz occurs at parishes and other organizations across the area when congregations are told that Father Scott will be visiting.
?I ?ve lived in Lawerenceville for decades and now it ?s the place to be for youngsters. ? While I think he meant ‘hipsters,’ it ?s hard to argue that our city has transformed over the last 25 years. We tend to think of Pittsburgh now as being organized by municipality or school district, but it was not that long ago that a Pittsburgher ?s identity was much more closely tied to the parish they attended. As Father Scott informed me during what was essentially my own personal TED talk, ?At one point, 40% of Pittsburgh was Roman Catholic and attending the parishes that represented their nationality. ? So while it was steel and brawn that brought our city to prominence, it seems that it was spirituality (ok, and very likely a good bit of alcohol) that held it together each night and sent it back to work each morning.
Early Sunday morning radio listeners to WDVE and other Clear Channel stations could become a bit befuddled when they receive a short 2-3-minute positive message in between the music stylings of Ozzy Ozborne and Joe Grushecky, but Father Scott ?s common sense advice and use of humor during his ?Joyful Reflections ? radio program have made him a Pittsburgh radio presence since 1996. Still airing six days a week on a variety of radio stations in Western PA, including a 15-minute session on WEDO-810AM at 8:30 a.m. each Sunday, Father Scott ?s message reaches radio listeners of all walks of life. These are also available any time on his website.
I spoke with Father Scott upon his recent return from a weeklong mission trip to Mexico ?one that happened to be a milestone 25th visit for him over the past 17 years. ?In 1999, I happened to visit some friends who were working with the poor approximately 320 miles southeast of Mexico City in Oaxaca, Mexico. ? (Oaxaca, pronounced ?Wo-ha-ka ? is both the name of the state and its capital.) Being the second poorest state in Mexico with a large indigenous population, his visit to the Pittsburgh-sized city of Oaxaca revealed that there was a great need for quality healthcare for the poor. On the final day of his visit, Father Scott made a deep personal decision and vowed to raise funds to build a medical clinic that would serve the poor who were coming in to the capital in large numbers with the dream of making a better life for themselves. Father Scott points out that ?Despite being basically a socialist country, only a small percentage of the Mexican poor receive adequate healthcare. ?
Even knowing that he had the help of many generous benefactors, I was amazed to find out that it took only one year for Father Scott to buy, remodel, and equip a clinical building that now provides medical care to the local Mexican residents. It is a full-service hospital and clinic that offers a place for the families of the patients to stay while they are being treated. Despite its size, Oaxaca has dirt roads only two miles from the city center and Father Scott indicated that ?Some of the 1800 patients that are seen each month travel six hours to come to the hospital to receive both quality care and compassionate attention. During any given year, the hospital treats as many as 300 patients who are so poor that they are unable to pay a peso for their treatment. ? To enable this free care, Father Scott has established a non-profit organization (TASH, Inc) to receive donations. In keeping with his style throughout our interview, Father Scott deflected the credit for his work and asked that the hospital be named The Anna Seethaler Hospital based upon the close relationship he formed with his mother during the final years of her life. Father Scott explained, ?I lived with her and took care of her during those final years and got to know her better than I ever had before. ?
Traveling as extensively as Father Scott has done enables a person to see both the best and worst of humanity across the world, two sides of a coin that Father Scott expressed he has seen exist simultaneously in several different places. He mentioned that ?You ?ll never quite listen to the words of the Gospel the same way after seeing those very places in which they occurred in Israel. However, it is troubling to see the troubling conflict occurring between Israel and Palestine right now. ? An even deeper sadness came across his face as he struggled to describe the conditions in Oaxaca. Father Scott can personally attest that that ?The divide between rich and poor is incredibly stark. ? Regaining his composure quickly, Father Scott then described the dedicated men and women who support his missions and run his hospital. He had a great deal to say about those who have given him strength and support, but I noticed that he again took absolutely no personal credit for all of the good that he has accomplished in long career.
So let ?s try this one more time: ?A priest and a guidance counselor walk into a Chinese restaurant and have an discussion of Pittsburgh ?s spiritual history, learn how one Pittsburgh man ?s calling can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the world, and then learn how each one of us can be part of this amazing story via donations to TASH, Inc. or through the Ole 5k. ? That ?s not exactly the gut-buster ending that the premise builds us up for, but I think that you ?ll find it to be much more fulfilling in the end.
(Author ?s note: I encourage you to use this opportunity to make your first 2015 tax deductible donation by going to www.clinicadelpueblo.org.mx. You could also consider participating in the ?Ole 5k ?, a run/walk supporting TASH, Inc by visiting http://ole5k.com/)