Father Bailey Clemens grew up on an Oregon ranch — and got his call to priesthood in a Ugandan field.

Taking time to discern what God wanted him to do in life, he left his on-air job at a radio station to spend two years helping his aunt, Holy Cross Sister Mary DeNardis, a nurse, immunize children in the African nation.

The month before he was to return to the United States, he was driving to pick up supplies for her clinic. A solider in the Ugandan army stopped him for a ride.

“Father, will you baptize me?” the man kept asking. The soldier was going to the front lines of war the next day. The young disc jockey remembered from his catechism how we’re all called to baptize in such situations.

“We stopped in the middle of a savannah,” Father Clemens recalls. “All I had was my drinking water. He took his hat off. I remembered the rite. And at that moment the Lord said: Priest. I knew that I was called after that to enter the seminary.”

Ordained in 1998, the Year of the Holy Spirit, Father Clemens first served with the Peoria, Ill., diocese. In 2005, he returned to his home diocese of Baker, Ore., and became pastor of St. Mary Church in Pendleton. There’s no mistaking where his heart lies now.

“I’m really big on building up fatherhood because we have to pull the men back into the Church,” says Father Clemens. “I try to get them out for a ‘Day of Desert,’ which is going to a mountain or a place away from everything to have Mass and adoration and talks. There’s a little bit of John Paul II in me on that one.”

Actually, there’s a lot of John Paul the Great in Father Clemens. He explains he’s very big on evangelization, constantly teaching parishioners, and placing great emphasis on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Everything starts at the summit with the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration.

Father Clemens came to a church offering adoration three-quarters of the week; now he’s working and educating to expand adoration to perpetual status with his 600 families. He leads by example that began in the seminary.

“He would personally live out a Eucharistic lifestyle,” says former classmate Father Ken Hummel, chaplain of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Student Newman Center at Western Illinois University. “When he got to the parish, it was just natural for him to do a Eucharistic holy hour after Mass in the morning.”

Eucharistic Emphasis

Nor does Father Clemens shy from what might be called “assertive evangelization.”

“We try to get the young people to adore 15 minutes before CCD classes,” Father Clemens explains. “They need the prayer to open them up more to the truth.”

“Father Clemens has the idea that, whenever he can put children in front of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus will take care of us,” says parishioner and youth-program worker Gretchen Ladd. “Through his teaching with the youth group and CCD, he has given the children more reason to understand Eucharistic adoration.”

She describes as “remarkable” a recent Youth 2000 retreat in Pendleton with its focus on Eucharistic adoration.

Likewise, Father Hummel remembers Father Clemens initiating youth-retreat trips from Peoria to Oregon with six priests. Focused on the Eucharist, these retreats in the Strawberry Mountains were modeled after Youth 2000 — and John Paul II’s own “accompaniment” retreats with young people in the mountains when he was a young priest.

“It was in Father Clemens’ own back yard,” says Father Hummel, “so he brought together the things that he loves: his home state, his youth group and brother priests.”

Father Clemens, along with Father Antoine Thomas of the Brothers of St. John, will conduct the diocese’s summer camps for high-school boys and girls in the Strawberry Mountains — Eucharistically focused, of course.

Confession was important for John Paul II. Same for Father Clemens. An oblate of the Brothers of St. John Community as well as a diocesan priest, he normally adds confessions monthly for all high-school youth groups and CCD classes in their hour of adoration.

“I challenge the boys to step up, be courageous and be the first ones to go,” he says. “Usually after that, everybody says, ‘Okay, I see I can do it too.’”

Spiritual Straight Talk

Father Clemens also sees fit to form the parents of first Communicants. He explains: “I want them to model for their children going to confession before the children go to their first confession. A lot have thanked me after not having been for years.”

Count Patrick and Sarah Feller, parents of three young children, among the priest’s appreciators.

“He really strives to put the family first and to make sure that we are striving to come to Christ for everything in every way,” says Patrick, who adds that he’s encouraged by the way Father Clemens teaches from the pulpit. “He gives you straight answers: ‘This is what the Church says. If you want to live by the faith, this is what you do.’”

To reach teens, Father Clemens harked back to his disc-jockey background — and launched a pop-rock Internet radio station, omegarock.com. Along with the upbeat music, it puts forth a clear, strongly Catholic message. He began it during the Jubilee Year with the support of Bishop John Myers (who was then bishop of Peoria, Ill., and is now archbishop of Newark, N.J.).

Right now the station is “a bit in the doldrums but hanging in there,” says Father Clemens, because his time is focused foremost on sacramental ministry.

And instead of spending time with television — he has no TV in the rectory — he goes out to be with his people.

“We can’t be spiritual fathers if we’re just reduced to efficiency,” explains Father Clemens. “Spiritual fatherhood involves a personal relationship with someone else.”

One way of being a spiritual father is through the regular Sunday dinners where three or four parish families host him and his associate priest in one of their homes. He finds people much more comfortable in that setting to open up and ask questions about the faith.

He also meets the people in the community and sporting events. “Whenever we played volleyball,” notes Father Hummel, “if he was on your team, you’d win the game.”

By all reports, the same promise holds true for Father Clemens’ spiritual leadership.

Joseph Pronechen writes from

Trumbull, Connecticut.