Father Bryce Lungren — Wyoming Cowboy and Catholic Priest
“The more you live out your sonship with God,” says Father Lungren, “the better your life will be.”
Out in the wild, wild West — actually, in Wyoming — ranching, herding cattle, and riding horses must be part of everyday life for many folks there. Imagine, then, a dashing young man who turned in his spurs to become a priest. That would be Father Bryce Lungren, parochial vicar at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Gillette, Wyoming.
Why a cowboy/priest? As it turns out, Father Bryce is a Wyoming native. “Our extended family had a ranch,” he said. “I grew up Catholic and it was a staple in life. We went to Mass every Sunday. After high school, I moved to Montana, and worked for 10 years, three of which were ranching. I guess my biggest decision in life came that first Sunday on my own, when it was up to me whether to go to Mass or not. And thanks be to God, my uncle just picked me up and we went.”
From then on it was a steady stream of learning about Catholicism, he said, and eventually, he started asking bigger questions. While he was ranching, he kept thinking that life was as good as it gets. But, he added, he realized his heart was not fulfilled. He realized that the priesthood was looking back at him. “And I learned about the beauty of the Church and of the priesthood through Catholic radio,” he said.
“My whole MO (modus operandi) as a priest is to be a son before a Father,” he said, “so I live out our baptismal identity as sons and then out of that my priestly vocation. What I do currently is like Peter: I left all behind and followed the Lord. And then over time he gave it back to me, so I am basically ranching again.” No wonder Father Bryce has found his true home and vocation: tending to parishioners and herding cattle.
He noted that most days he spends only the mornings in the office, and in the afternoons, he is out checking on folks around town or playing with one of his two horses. “I do spend time ranching with parishioners,” he said. “I got my buddy, the music teacher at the Catholic school, to help break colts. It is super cool for us to work together. And I take other parishioners out riding as well. That is the beauty of what I get to do.”
Even with so much beef at hand, Father Bryce admits that cooking is not his gig. Instead, he said, he provides beef for parishioners through a cattle co-op that Wyoming just passed into law.
“Each year I pick up about 12 open heifers and run them for the summer fattening them on grass. Throughout the fall, I butcher them and make the beef available to the partners. It’s a win/win for us all.”
“The more you live out your sonship with God,” he said, “the better your life will be. The part of my nature as a cowboy and a priest work well together and complement each other. My time in the parish also includes running the mission circuit in the northeast corner of Wyoming. We have three mission churches, and on a Sunday, that is a 200-mile loop. … I do that every weekend and it is so good.”
While he may not actually spend time in the parish kitchen, he does have a favorite family recipe that his mom always makes — cabbage burgers. “Whether it’s for the bishop or my buddy, Kelly, all I have to do is pull one out and warm it up,” he said.
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Father Bryce said this recipe originated in his father’s family, and it is a practical dish to serve for lunch. A version of Texas Roadhouse Rolls are available online. Father Bryce said you can make extra-large dinner rolls from scratch instead. This is a recipe for a big batch so you can freeze any extra ones.
- 1 head cabbage, shredded
- 2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 pounds hamburger meat
- 1 package Rhodes Texas-size rolls
Steam the cabbage and onion with 1 cup water in the bottom of the kettle. Salt the cabbage generously as you go. Cook on low heat until it is wilted. You may need to drain some water off as the cabbage wilts down. Watch carefully so it does not scorch.
Brown the hamburger meat in batches until cooked but not crisp. Drain. Add the hamburger to the cabbage mixture and season. Will take quite a bit of salt and enough pepper to be able to see it. Taste as you go!
Cool the mixture for approximately 30 minutes. Refrigerate overnight for best results. This lets the cabbage-hamburger mixture age together. Let it set at room temperature to cool down before refrigerating.
Set the rolls out overnight in a cool place or put them in the refrigerator to thaw. Make sure they are completely covered with plastic wrap to avoid drying out. Also follow package directions and thaw at room temperature for between 3 to 5 hours.
Roll the dough into 5- to 6-inch rounds on a floured surface. Place parchment paper on a regular baking sheet, and spray with cooking spray for easier removal after baking. Roll out all 6 rounds before filling. Warm the filling for a few minutes in a micro. Gather a tennis ball-sized filling, squeeze well to remove excess grease and also to hold the filling in a ball shape. Wash hands before folding the edges so the top of the burger doesn’t have filling on it. Moisten the edges of the dough with water on your fingertips. Fold into a square picking up opposite corners. Pinch together well. You may need to flour your fingertips. Repeat until the dough and the filling are used.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes in a warm pace. Brush with mild before baking. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Place on a wire rack and remove from the parchment. Run a stick of butter over the top while still warm. Cool completely if you plan to freeze them or eat them hot.