The Mass in Hell took place on April 6, 2008. Officiating priest was Father Steve Dublinski, then the vicar general for administration in the Spokane diocese, rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane, my pastor, friend and one hell ‘uv a fine fly fisherman.
I had introduced him to the sacred rites of the most exclusive fraternity a few years earlier, but Father Steve quickly passed me in knowledge and skill. In no way could I claim to be his mentor, nor did I. Largely self-taught, Father Steve approached the challenge with the kind of diligence one more easily might associate with a medieval monk who had just stumbled across a major remnant of one of the lost Gnostic gospels.
Before six months had elapsed he was tying his own flies. Nonetheless, I felt rewarded for being the mid-wife to this new holy alliance Father Steve had embraced so easily for it led to many a wonderful Wednesday in which Father Steve and I would stalk the wily westslope cutthroat up and down the reaches of the nearby St. Joe River or the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene.
Wednesday was Father Steve’s day off and it quickly became the day of the week verboten for anyone to schedule anything on my calendar. I also introduced Father Steve to some of the fine literature about his new hobby. His favorite was A River Runs Through It by the Montana born and raised professor of English at the University of Chicago, Norman Maclean.
Father Steve was a Chicago native himself, having been born there on June 26th. While still an infant the family moved to Walla Walla. There Dublinski attended St. Patrick’s Parish and received his early education at the Catholic high school, DeSales. Though more noted for its phenomenally successful football and baseball programs (At one point DeSales had captured ten small school state baseball championships), Dublinski, a tall and lean 6 feet four inches, was a key starter on the school’s basketball team.
Even in high school, though, it was clear to fellow students that this Dublinski (Father Steve had five other siblings) was a cut above others in terms of intellect and interest in philosophy and religion. From DeSales he attended and received his B.A. from Spokane’s Gonzaga University.
While attending Gonzaga he decided to enter the priesthood, a path which required six more years of education four of which he spent studying in Rome. While there Father Steve discovered and to this day loves Italian food.
This led to a second treat besides the Sunday Mass - we all were introduced the night before to Father Steve’s culinary talent and his specialty, pasta carbanara.
That particular weekend the weather in the Hells Canyon of the Snake River that borders Idaho and Oregon for almost 100 miles was a typical blustery and ever-changing April. There had been few sunbreaks during the day and a cool wind was blowing down river as we lit the fire in the grate on the camp site we had established in the old horse pasure adjacent to the Jordan Ranch on Kirkwood Bar.
For a number of years our family’s first hiking/camping outing of the season was into Hells Canyon in part because spring always “sprung”two to three weeks earlier there. This particular year we had invited Father Steve to join us along with our old neighbors from Bainbridge Island, the Rick Richards family. We had taken a jet boat operated by Beamer’s out of Lewiston the 90 miles up the Snake to the Jordan Ranch where we established base camp and took day hikes from there.
That Father Steve was able to make an extraordinary and tasty pasta carbonara with the temperature dropping into the low 40’s and a light rain falling was considered a minor miracle.
On Sunday morning, however, we arose the sounds of chukars clucking in the hills, blue sky, warm sunshine and no breeze. It felt like another Easter morning with the promise of spring and summer overwhelming the senses. At 8:30 a.m. Father Steve laid out a vestment made in Italy and a chalice made in Mexico. A large rock in the corner of the pasure served as the altar in this cathedral of the great outdoors and seven people took part in the most sacred ritual of all---the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. During the prayers of the faithful I thanked the Lord for all the wonderful blessings mine and me enjoy but a special thanks for that day and those there.
It seemed to me that only in Idaho could such a special event like a Mass in Hell occur.
As Christmas in the year of our Lord, 2015, draws ever closer, may each and every one reading this remember what this season is all about: may you find the peace that passeth understanding and obtain the more abundant life that is promised. Merry Christmas from our home to you and all yours.
(Editor’s Note: This column was taken from the introduction to the forthcoming book by the author on Hells Canyon due out next summer.)