Flying high

Rural pastor loves his model airplanes, but loves the priesthood more——————————————————————————————————————

by Bob Hart

Talk about a calling. Rick Storey, working as a funeral director in his 20s, had been kicking around the idea of going to the seminary for several years when he received a sign.

“I was at a Protestant funeral,” he recalled, “and the preacher was talking about how the deceased was in hell, and how we all needed to take heed. [The pastor] had asked the man if he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, and the man said he wasn’t ready to discuss that yet. He died the next day.

“And the preacher was saying — to this man’s family and friends — that he was in hell.”

“And so I left,” recalled Father Storey. “I left the church and I sat outside while the funeral was still going on.”

He thought about all the things he felt the preacher could have said — should have said — to the bereaved. He thought about what he would have said had he had the chance.

And he decided it was high time he got off the sidelines and into the game.

“It had come and gone and come and gone,” he said, of his calling to the priesthood.

“I don’t always get things until you hit me with it five or six times,” he added. “But this was just peaceful, obvious, definite.”

Already accustomed to helping people in times of need, the young man from Wea left the funeral that day, bound for the seminary.

On the road

“I didn’t go to the seminary until I was 28, but I guess I always knew in one way or another that’s where God was calling me,” said Father Storey.

Now with four years in the priesthood under his belt, and as the pastor of three parishes, Father Storey spends much of his time in the car, heading from one location to another — hospitals in Topeka, Emporia, Ottawa and Olathe; area nursing homes and assisted living facilities; and of course, his three churches.

“People here are very laid-back and gracious,” he said. “They’re grateful to have a priest, and they’re flexible when schedules demand. When I get an emergency hospital call on a Saturday or Sunday and have to cancel a Mass, they understand.”

In fact, a parishioner passed away just 20 minutes before Father Storey sat down to visit with The Leaven. He had been out to see her — most recently to administer the sacrament of the sick — several times in the previous week.

“There is nothing more beautiful in our faith than the funeral Mass,” said Father Storey. “There is nothing more comforting, nothing more assuring. The greatest hope we have is in that liturgy.

“As Catholics, we don’t only think it — we believe it.

“It’s hope. It’s resurrection. It’s who we are.”

His nine years as a funeral director in Louisburg helped prepare him for this ministry to the terminally ill and their families — the part of the priesthood he considers his specialty. But he’s also learned to balance books (proudly eliminating parish debt) and take on all the other demands that go with being a pastor.

“It was scary at first, a little intimidating,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, but even now, there are times when you think, ‘How will it all ever get done?’ But you know what? You just keep going, and somehow it gets done.”

On wings

When he needs a break from the hectic pace, Father Storey sometimes takes time to look at his collection of model airplanes.

“They’re really about the memories associated with them,” he explained. “The places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. If the planes all burned up in a fire tomorrow, that would be fine, and I’d go on.”

In fact, Father Storey never set out to amass a collection in the first place.

“I saw one particular airplane when I was in high school, and it just caught my eye,” he said. “It’s die cast metal with hand painting, and the detail on it is impressive. So I bought it, with no intention of ever collecting them. But then I saw another one in an antique store…”

Although he’s purchased very few of the planes himself, the collection now numbers more than 40 (“maybe a few more at my parents’ house,” he allowed), thanks to gifts from parishioners and other friends over the years.

“Some of them are worth some money, some not. But they’re all of value because people were thoughtful enough to give them to me. There are people who are really into this model airplane thing — clubs and conventions and eBay. I don’t get into any of that. I just treasure the memories.”

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