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072Fr. Bob Butler, M.S. (extreme right) with Fr. Skip Negley, M.S.
(center) with La Salette Argentinian Seminarians in January 2013

How many years of ministry did you experience in the United States?

My first four years of priestly ministry were spent serving solely in our Seminary High School in Cheshire, Connecticut, as Prefect of Discipline to seventy active boys. I also was Athletic Director, Soccer Coach, and Infirmarian. On the weekends, along with the other priests, we celebrated the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist in several regional parishes.

How many years have you served in Argentina?

I arrived in Argentina in February 1974 with two other La Salettes, Jim Lowery and Norm Farland. I served there for 45 enjoyable years of ministry and personal relationships. As a new arrival, I knew I had to adapt to this new culture, language, food, and customs. One of the prominent and unexpected customs was their welcoming with hugs and kisses from everyone.

However, in my history from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, our welcoming customs were much more staid; for example, I did not hug my father or even kiss my mother very often. We were much more formal. However, I soon accepted and got used to my newfound home in Argentinian culture with its somewhat overwhelming expression of genuine love and acceptance.

How did you learn Spanish?

We began in Lima, Peru, in the Language School of St. James, founded by Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston, Massachusetts. The course was four very intense and tedious months of excellent instruction. Their school philosophy was “to learn as a child learns,” which meant listening and repeating. I lived at the school and was very grateful to our instructors for their patience and kindness. Then the three of us La Salettes left for Argentina and our new life ahead.

How did you adjust to your new home?

Scan0014Regional meeting of La Salettes in Argentina in December 1979I seemed to have adjusted well to my first parish, St. Augustine Parish in St. Augustine, Cordoba, Argentina, a town of 3,000 people, mostly baptized Catholics. We also had five other chapels in the campo (or farm country) in the parish. I enjoyed serving with Fr. Joe Kettner, M.S., whose mission letters I read in the High School Seminary in Hartford, CT.

Concerning food, the proportion of servings in Argentina included lots of meat and a few vegetables, resulting from the Argentinian production of wide varieties of meat products for export. This proportion size was the opposite of what I experienced as a child in Fitchburg.

Their universal custom of drinking “mate,” a strong-tasting herbal tea drunk with a metal straw, was drunk initially from a small gourd. This was more than an occasional habit of offering mate. It was a potent symbol of friendship, filled with love, that should not often be refused. It was a cultural liturgy in the best of senses.

What did you experience about cultures in Argentina?

Argentina is a country of primarily immigrants with a wide variety of customs. I served in seven different places during my 45 years of ministry, some at a great distance from one another. I experienced differences in immigrant foods, including a mixture of Italian, Arab, and German foods and some from many other countries. In all these different experiences, there was a certain commonality of a spirit of warmth and welcome.

What happened when you returned to your birth country, the United States?

When I returned, I was very surprised that, at the age of 78, I was asked to serve as Assistant Director of our new House of Studies in Brighton, MA. As a native North American, I didn’t realize that I would have to experience “culture shock” in my native land. I returned to television with shows that discussed topics we would never have imagined in 1974 when I left for Argentina. Other differences were the extended structure of doctor’s visits before I got to see my primary caregiver from Russia. In my ministry, the Anglos and Hispanics were most welcoming to me.

M 09 LS panorama4bOur Lady of La Salette in La Banda, Santiago del Estero, Argentina; notice the typical Argentinian farmer’s hat and sacks near Our LadyHispanics in Argentina had a different concept of time. When they told us that we would begin our meal at 1:00 PM, they meant it could start any time after 1:00 PM, even 2:30 PM. In our U.S. parishes, our Hispanics are more on-time than in South America, perhaps due to their experience of American culture and its unique demands. In Argentina, our Masses were much more participative and filled with music than I have recently experienced here in the U.S.

How have these experiences helped you as a La Salette Missionary today?

I simply loved my life and ministry as a La Salette Missionary in Argentina and my initial brief stay in my home country. These experiences help me to appreciate – all the more – Mary’s words at La Salette: “You will make this known to all my people.” When I pray the phrase from the Second Eucharistic Prayer, “Remember, Lord, your Church spread throughout the world...” I get transported by the realization that I have done my part as a La Salette in the world today.