Father La Riviere - Uncle Earl

by Mark La Riviere, as told to LRS committee members, summer 2018

Mark La Riviere lives in the Seattle area, along with many surviving members of the extended La Riviere family. Earlier in 2018, members of the La Riviere Society Steering Committee interviewed Mark to gain a better understanding of Fr. Earl’s early days – especially his life before Aquinas HS. What follows are excerpts from that interview. 

LRS members asking questions include: Chuck Street, class of 1969, Charlie Daschbach, class of 1966, John Talbot (attended 1962 to 1965) and Nicholas Herlick, class of 1966.


Charlie: “Mark, could you please start by telling us a little bit about your uncle’s career?”


Mark: “Father Earl – “Uncle Earl” as we knew him, was the oldest of five brothers. His father was Earl La Riviere Senior and his mother was Clara. They lived in Long Beach and Oakland and eventually up to the Seattle area in the 1930s. 


By the late 30’s, when Father Earl was coming of age, he followed his father to sea. He wanted to find out if a career at sea was for him. So, before he even entered the seminary he served on a US Coastal Geodetic Survey vessel that did some of the first mapping and navigational charting in the Aleutian Islands, in Western Alaska. I imagine that he was a machinist or a machinist’s helper. He spent a year up there. My Grandfather, his father, was first a chief engineer and then later in his career he became a marine surveyor.

 

Uncle Earl went to three high schools: two in California and one in Washington State. As a freshman, he went to St. Josephs in Alameda. That was the first year that the school opened. The family was living in Oakland at the time. My grandfather, Earl Senior, was working as a marine surveyor on the Oakland waterfront. 


Then they moved to Long Beach CA for two years, and  his sophomore and junior years were at St. Anthony’s in Long Beach. By his senior year they had moved to Seattle and he went to Seattle Preparatory School as they were formally known then. He was only at Prep for three months as a junior. The next year, he was already established enough that he was elected Senior Class President. That’s the kind of personality, charisma, and force of nature that he had - to arrive at a brand new school and get elected senior class President after three months at the school.


Earl was two years ahead of Bob, his brother, my father.  When Dad was a senior at Prep, the President of the school,  Father Chris McDonald told my dad: ‘Hey, I would like to talk to Earl. Would you get a message to him and have him come and visit me?’ Earl was at Seattle University at the time. Dad got the message to him. 


Earl showed up at Father McDonald’s office, and this Priest didn’t even let Uncle Earl sit down. Apparently, the moment Earl walked into the room, Fr. McDonald came around his desk, walked right up to Earl, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and just started shaking him yelling "What are you doing here? What are you doing with your life?" - just shaking him like a dog - saying "You should be a priest!"

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Apparently, that was literally the first time that Uncle Earl seriously thought about becoming a priest. 


And, boy, it awoke something in him, because he joined several other class of ’41 Seattle Prep graduates - fellows that my Dad went to school with when they all graduated - and Earl entered the Jesuit Seminary  in the summer of 1941.  


So, I guess that’s how they recruited priests - a little bit differently - back in those days.”


Chuck: “That’s a hard sell”


Nick: “That actually explains a lot about the way he did things later.”


Charlie: “There’s an echo of what he would ask us later – ‘Do you want to be boil on the backside of humanity? What are you doing? Where are you going?’”


Mark: “Right, and I remember him asking me that as well, growing up, especially in high school. I can remember those same conversations ‘What are you doing? What are you planning to do? Have you thought about being a priest?’ Uncle Earl, and I think several in the family kind of christened me as the next priest in the family. But, as I often described it later in life - I was ready to answer the phone - but I never got the phone call. You know? The call was just never there for me. Nobody ever grabbed me by the collar and shook me up really big time.


There was another question too, and that was dad’s relationship with his father. By the 1940s, before the US entered World War II, Uncle Earl decided to enter the priesthood and the seminary. Originally, he studied and was ordained as a Jesuit, in Spokane Washington in about 1954. I was born in 1953. My dad Bob was the second oldest of the five La Riviere brothers. They were Earl, Bob, Jim, Frank and Steve. Only Bob and Steve had families. But even with the five children each from by Dad and Steve, there was always plenty of nieces and nephews around, and then grand-nieces and nephews! 


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In my years of growing up in Washington State, Father Earl was always in California, and he  always made time for the family. He came up regularly for the holidays and for family occasions, marriages. I remember him celebrating Earl and Clara’s 50th wedding anniversary Mass. I can remember him presiding at many family baptisms as he was always a large part of the family. One of the biggest influences that he had on the family was his interest in and support for Catholic education. The two brothers that had families really did everything in their power to have their children enrolled in Catholic parochial schools and then secondary schools as much as possible. Many of us then went on to attend Jesuit universities. 

Charlie: “Mark, could you please tell us a bit about yourself, and your career in fisheries? We’d like to get to know you a little better.”


Mark: “I started my career at Seattle University. I was there two years until the fishery bug really took hold, and I transferred over to the University of Washington where I got a bachelor’s degree in fishery in 1976.  I worked in the field a bit, and then came back to UW to earn a Master’s degree in 1981. 


I moved to Alaska to start my family. After working there for a few years, I returned to Washington, with our two daughters as young girls. I worked for an Indian Tribe and then a power company. We have a lot of hydro-power, with dams on rivers, so power companies need fisheries biologists working for them.  I can remember Father Earl coming for the First Communion Service for both of my daughters when he was pretty close to, if not, fully retired. I remember that Fr. Earl liked to take the train, or sometimes with one of his brothers he would drive back and forth from Southern California to the Northwest. We saw him regularly that way.


When it was time for our daughters to go to high school he counseled our family to attend a Catholic school if at all possible. Actually, he made contributions out of his own pocket to help us afford to send our daughters to a Catholic high school in Tacoma. He did that for other nieces and nephews as well. It always amazed us that the man could put his hands on some money – not necessarily significant – but it was a real case of putting his money where his mouth was. 


Nick: “Can you talk about the relationship your Uncle Earl had with his father, for example, was Earl Senior more of an authoritarian or easy going?”


Mark:  That was a really interesting one.’ (Mark then asked his father about it) ‘My dad had to think about that. Of course, he probably was reflecting on his own relationship with his father. Grandpa Earl, Senior was out to sea an awful lot. Maybe six to nine months out of the year, during  the years that those boys were growing up, which was especially significant to the older boys. Dad said that Uncle Earl had a lot of respect for his father but there was no buddy-buddy relationship there. And really his mother, my Grandmother Clara, raised the five boys at home. She relied on Earl a lot, because he was the oldest son and her husband was out to sea a lot. 


I do know that it was a very loving relationship. He had a high degree of respect for his parents. It’s a huge part of the reason he returned to the Northwest. As years went by, he would go up to Washington yearly, celebrating with family during the holidays. On many occasions, Fr. Earl would say Mass right in the dining room - in my Grandparents’ home. Those were always special times for me and others in the family - to be able to participate in a very intimate Mass like that.


I can remember that every morning he would go out and read his brevity, daily prayers from his Morning Prayer book. He was very consistent about that. Every morning was his time of prayer, his time of meditation.”


It was a very tight knit family. Five brothers that were very close to each other. They all looked up to and respected Grandpa Earl. And to have the oldest boy in the family enter the priesthood and become first a Jesuit and then a Diocesan Priest was really a blessing for everybody in the family.”


Charlie: “I wanted to ask you Mark about his attraction to literature and poetry, and frankly the romance of life while he was still a very pastoral person. We could talk all night when he would take students aside and helped them individually. So he got into this teaching thing and just reveled in it. And the other thing is his love of literature and poetry.


I remember one summer - I don’t know if the others guys remember this but - we asked him what he was going to do that one summer - and he said he was going to read Carl Sandburg’s 7 volume ‘Life of Lincoln’. We all kind of groaned.

He fell into his love of liberal arts, although he also taught geometry and Latin. His big impact with us was teaching English. Can you give us any insights on that?”


Mark: “Well, I do know that he was a life-long learner. I think he was a natural as a Jesuit. As you know the Jesuit order is a teaching order. 


Charlie: “Yes, I was taught by the Jesuits for most of my life… I’m ok now. Mark, this is a delicate question among us because I wondered about it. I don’t know if it’s delicate or just a simple answer. He moved from the Jesuits to the diocese of San Diego. Do you know why he left the Jesuits?”


Mark: “I don’t know the specific details, but it would surprise none of us to know that it had to do with principle. It had to do with a stand that he took that he wouldn’t back down from. And whether that was something authoritative, that was being lorded over him, or whether he got into a spat with a Jesuit elder.”


Charlie: “We don’t need to know any more. You just described it perfectly. There are a few people in our lives who were built on integrity and principle. He would be one of them.”


Mark: “I was a college student in Seattle in the early 70’s. And, of course, it was during the hippie era, and we were growing our hair long. We started experimenting with mustaches and beards and things like that. Eventually, we showed up at Grandma Clara’s house for dinner. And of course she asked, ‘What gives?! Why are you growing a mustache? What’s with that beard? It looks like hell. Get rid of it!’ 


Grandma Clara was so strongly opposed to facial hair that I asked my dad and uncles "What gives with her on this?". It started a lively conversation at Christmas dinner. What it came down to was, none of the five brothers had facial hair growing up, because she was so opposed to it. Mind you, Uncle Earl went to sea that same year - and he grew a full beard 

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But he wasn’t anywhere around his mother at that Christmas dinner. It turned out that Grandma had a strong objection to facial hair, because as a little girl at the turn of the century it was very fashionable for men to have big bushy mustaches and mutton chops. 


She was a cute little girl, and they would pick her up and hug and kiss her. Apparently, that irritated her enough that later, when she had five sons, she laid down the law that there would be no facial hair.


So that even carried over to us grandsons. I mean eventually, of course, we fell out of that edict’s influence the same way her sons did.


Nick: “I really want a picture of him with a full beard, for the web site!”

Chuck: “You know Mark you said two words that really reminded me of Father Earl. You said ‘What gives?’. I remember Father Earl saying that. So was it a family phrase.”


Mark: “It probably is – and probably something I have been saying ever since.


Chuck: “Yeah, no kidding. I remember Fr. Earl telling a story one about a fellow seaman, who flicked mustard onto his mustache. And that was the beginning of pretty big fist fight.“


John: “Sometimes, at Aquinas, when two guys started duking it out, Fr. Earl got the gloves out, so they wouldn’t fight bare knuckled. His car was right there, so he’d pull gloves out and say, ‘Come on fellas’. Everybody in the school stopped what they were doing and came around. I also remember that Father Desmond was the Principal then – kind of a laid back - wore sunglasses all the time. Sometime after the fight, Fr. Desmond took Fr. Earl to his office… to counsel him. I don’t know what happened. But, everybody in the school was behind Father La Riviere including the two guys in the fight.”


Mark: I also remember that Uncle Earl was also a strong athlete. In his earlier years, I remember him playing a lot of tennis. In high school, he was a four sport star. He lettered the beginning of his freshman year in four sports, all the way through high school. He was quite the athlete, and he kept that up. I knew him primarily by his playing tennis.”


John: “What high school was that Mark?


Mark: “I believe it was a high school in Alameda - the same school where Joe DiMaggio went to high school. It might have been St. Joseph’s because I think that’s the Catholic school in Alameda.”


And so ends the LRS Committee's interview-style srticle about Fr. Earl's family history. This article ends with a statement by Jim and Mark La Riviere bout their Uncle Earl's life and his impact. What follows was prepared after the interview...

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"Our family has been very touched by these remembrances of our uncle, Fr. Earl. 


We knew that his teaching had a lifelong impact on many people, and having been inspired by him there are several members of our family who have followed in his footsteps to become teachers. 


That folks remember Fr. Earl fondly despite his occasional fire and brimstone shows the true effect of a strong upbringing in the faith and of his impact as a teacher who imparted solid values.


We as a family are steeped in a Jesuit legacy that began with Fr. Earl, and we wish for this valuable tradition to be carried on. We will do as much as possible as a family to see that the memory of his good works is carried on, as well as a fond remembrance for the genuinely difficult work of trying to turn a young man into a gentleman, scholar & saint.


We are all deeply moved by the many continuing remembrances and generous contributions.  Perhaps through a statue at Aquinas High School and a scholarship fund the legacy of Fr. Earl LaRiviere will never have a true closing."


- Jim and Mark LaRiviere, Sept. 2018, Seattle, Washington