“There is no such thing as a coincidence in life,” says Father Clyde Rausch, OMI. “God’s got plans bigger than we’ll ever understand.” He should know. Surrounded by the inspiring icons he creates in his artist’s studio at the Oblate Renewal Center, his life is a far cry from his childhood days on the plains of northern South Dakota, where he was born on his parents’ farm.
Becoming a priest – or an artist – was not something he aspired to as a boy although, attending a Catholic school in his 99 percent Catholic community, the nuns who taught him were zealous encouragers of religious vocations. For girls, “somebody in the family should become a nun,” he recalls. “For boys, it was priest or religious brother, so it was always in the back of my mind.”
Art was not even on his radar, although his mother had an artistic bent and his father had skills in carpentry and drawing. Father Rausch liked to draw and had enjoyed drawing blueprints since childhood, he admits, but the only paintbrush he had ever touched was to paint the house or barn.
Yet, as a priest on a far continent, the “coincidence” of an iconographer being invited to serve as an “ice-breaker” in building a relationship with reclusive villagers would lead to his own ministry through iconography, an ancient style of religious art that originated in the Greek Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches. “I just think it was God’s hand leading me to that,” he says.
But first would come the South Dakota farm boy being drawn to the Oblates through correspondence with their vocations director. Bombarded with impersonal mimeographed letters from various orders when he began high school, he did not feel ready to enter a seminary at the young age of 14. The Oblate representative, however, had sent a personal letter and the two continued to exchange letters through the future Father Rausch’s high school years.
Clinching the deal for his Oblates choice was their missionary work. Father Rausch’s parents had instilled a spirit of curiosity in him with their annual three-week family vacations, traveling around the country after the crops were in. “I love South Dakota, but I didn’t want to stay there,” he says. “I wanted to be in a bigger context.”