By Mike Viola
At every meal, Fr. Ron Carignan, O.M.I. sits at the same table at the Oblate Madonna Residence in San Antonio, Texas. To his right always sits Fr. Leo Dummer, O.M.I. It’s an appropriate seating arrangement because Fr. Leo has been Fr. Ron’s right-hand-man for more than 50 years.
“God put us together at the start of our ministries,” said Fr. Leo. “We’ve been like a hand and a glove ever since.”
Father Ron and Fr. Leo started out as an Oblate Odd Couple. Father Ron is from the Lowell, Massachusetts area outside of Boston. As a child he attended St. Joan of Arc grade school with hundreds of other children. Father Leo grew up on a farm in New Ulm, Minnesota. He attended a one room grade school.
As young men they both felt a calling to the priesthood and joined the Oblate formation program. But throughout their time as seminarians, they never met each other, Fr. Ron studying for the priesthood on the East Coast and Fr. Leo in the Midwest.
In 1959 both men were ordained. Most young Oblates at that time were looking at the foreign missions, and that was causing a shortage of Oblates in domestic ministries. So Fr. Ron and Fr. Leo decided to stay home and go to the mission territory of California. That’s where their paths finally crossed.
For about the next 20 years, Fr. Ron and Fr. Leo taught and were administrators at high schools. “We ran top notch schools,” said Fr. Ron. “We taught everything and when we left a school we could say it was better than we arrived,” said Fr. Leo as he finished his friends thought.
Father Ron had a gift for administrative work and would often become the principal at the school. He would usually appoint Fr. Leo as the vice-principal.
Eventually Fr. Ron took on administrative roles with the Oblates, including being named the Provincial for the Western Province. When he needed a Treasurer, it was no surprise the first, and only person he asked to take the job was Fr. Leo.
“He called and asked me to think about becoming the Treasurer,” said Fr. Leo. “Why would I need to think about it? I’ll go wherever he asks me to go.”
That loyalty took on special meaning in 1997 when both men decided they were not ready for retirement. Father Ron, who was finishing an assignment working at the Oblate General House in Rome, accepted the challenge of becoming the Superior of the Oblates’ ministries in Zambia. Father Ron called Fr. Leo to tell him about his decision. Within a short time, Fr. Leo was on a plane headed for Africa.
“I always asked Fr. Leo to take care of the money and that is what he did for the five years we were in Zambia together,” said Fr. Ron. “He had every penny accounted for and that really helped us grow the mission there.”
One of their main accomplishments in Zambia was the creation of Radio Liseli, a radio station that broadcasts a variety of religious programming throughout the western part of the country. In addition to religious programs, Radio Liseli also broadcasts programs that respond to local community concerns, creating space for people to air their concerns and get them addressed.
“Our work in Zambia required us to chart a daring path, a journey in which we could not be faint of heart or let fear hold us back,” said Fr. Ron. “We had to be willing to take the difficult road, and in doing so we discovered hat it was a wonderful place to be.”
Today, Fr. Ron and Fr. Leo are again at a place that they consider wonderful. They live at the Oblate Madonna Residence along with about two dozen other retired Oblates. Father Leo has trouble walking so Fr. Ron is there to push him in his wheelchair. Fr. Ron occasionally has trouble remembering things, so Fr. Leo is there to help fill in the gaps.
They both enjoy reading, and one of their favorite books is The Road Less Traveled. The book looks at how to overcome difficulties and challenges in a person’s life.
For Fr. Ron and Fr. Leo, they chose to take the road less traveled. And because they took that road together, it was a road filled with much satisfaction, hope and joy.