The call that changed Liam Cary’s life and brought him back to Central Oregon came at 1 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2012.
At the time Cary was the pastor for a Catholic church in Eugene. On the other end of the phone was Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C.
“Pope Benedict has named you Bishop of the Diocese of Baker, do you accept?” Viganò said.
While he was stunned, Cary said his answer came quickly.
“Well, yes,” Cary said.
The Roman Catholic Church installed Cary as Bishop of the Diocese of Baker, which covers the eastern two thirds of Oregon and has about 34,000 members, in May 2012. He is the seventh man to hold the church’s highest post in Central and Eastern Oregon.
Cary’s family moved from Portland, where he was born, to Prineville when he was 3 years old in 1950, according to the diocese website.
Reminiscing of his childhood in Central Oregon, Cary said he knew when he was 6 that he wanted to be a priest — just like the pastor he looked up to at St. Joseph Parish in Prineville.
“I wanted to be like him,” Cary said. “I wanted to take his place when I grew up.”
Cary left at age 14 to study at Mount Angel Seminary near Salem, where he graduated high school in 1961 and college in 1969.
But before becoming a priest Cary took a nearly two-decade detour.
He said he did because he wanted to experience living on his own and learn how to pay his own bills. He volunteered at a legal aid office in Chicago. He worked at a medical clinic for farmworkers in California. He painted houses in Portland and Eugene.
He went back to seminary in 1988 and was ordained a priest in 1992. After spending time at churches in Portland and Salem he spent 12 1/2 years in Medford before moving back to Eugene where he was a priest for eight months before becoming bishop.
Now 65, he said it’s been a pleasure to become reacquainted the past year with Oregon east of the Cascades.
The travel has been the biggest change in becoming a bishop. He’s driven about 20,000 miles, mostly on his own in a 2007 Subaru Outback that was donated to the diocese.
“Almost every weekend I have someplace to go,” he said.
The diocese stretches from Hood River and Pendleton in the north to Klamath Falls and Lakeview in the south. East to west it goes from Ontario on the Oregon-Idaho border to the eastern side of the Cascades. The diocese covers nearly 67,000 square miles, according to the diocese website.
Pope Leo XIII created the Diocese of Baker, then called the Diocese of Baker City, in 1903, according to the website. In 1987, the diocesan offices moved from Baker City to Bend, where Cary now has his office.
Cary’s travel over the past year hasn’t been limited to Oregon. He said he’s also made three trips to Vatican City, where he met with church leaders, including now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He said he has yet to meet Pope Francis, who ascended to the Throne of Peter in March after Benedict resigned in late February.
While he said he misses the ongoing connections he had with parishioners as a priest, he said he is enjoying the travel and meetings with a lot of people in different settings as a bishop.
“It’s a wonderful life,” Cary said.