Father Ray Orlett
"Father Orlett was a quiet, compassionate and dignified man of God, a professor and a pastor who excelled at both," said Father Dan Dorsey, president of Glenmary Home Missioners. "He was brilliant in Scripture and also talented in artistic endeavors such as weaving. Over the years, he contributed on many levels to Glenmary's home mission efforts."
Father Orlett was the first of several Glenmarians who grew up in Glenmary missions and were inspired to join the society. As a first-grader, his sister Dorothy remembers, Ray told his teacher he knew what his life's work would be: he was going to be a priest. Later, the newly ordained Father Orlett said he felt a special connection to the people Glenmary serves: "I will be among those I know best and love most."
He became a student for Glenmary in 1943, while still in high school, and received his bachelor's degree from St. Gregory Seminary in 1948. He continued his education at St. Mary Seminary of the West and Our Lady of the Fields Seminary. He later received a licentiate degree in theology from Catholic University and a licentiate in biblical studies from the Biblical Institute in Rome.
Soon after ordination, Father Orlett was appointed professor of scripture at the Glenmary seminary. He is vividly remembered by former students and fellow Glenmarians as an exceptional scholar and teacher. "Many Glenmary priests and brothers have a love of scripture because of Father Orlett," Father Dorsey added. Father Orlett also served the seminary as rector, librarian and spiritual director.
During his years in Glenmary leadership, he called for a major revamping of all phases of member formation. And he assisted then-president Father Bob Berson in building a new Glenmary education program that reflected the post-Vatican II Church.
He received his first pastorate in 1971, leading Glenmary's missions in Sulphur Springs and Commerce, Texas. During his nine years as pastor, St. James in Sulphur Springs was one of the fastest-growing congregations in northeast Texas. Despite language barriers, Father Orlett worked hard to include in the life of the mission the many Mexican nationals who were working on farms and ranches in the county. A second Sunday Mass was added, and once a month it was celebrated in Spanish by a visiting priest. The mission developed so well that it was returned to the Diocese of Dallas in 1980 for continued pastoral care.
In 1981 Father Orlett became pastor of Glenmary's mission in West Union, Ohio, located in one of the society's earliest mission areas. In addition to serving the members of the Catholic community, he was dedicated to helping all those living in Adams County, one of Ohio's poorest. During his three years serving the county he founded Interfaith House, an ecumenical emergency food pantry that also assisted people with prescription, fuel and clothing needs.
From 1984 to 1992 he served his final pastorate in Amory, Miss., and helped lead the successful effort to fund and build a long-awaited parish hall.
In 1992 he became a senior Glenmary member, moved to Kingsport, Tenn., and began another chapter in his life—as a skilled textile weaver. He designed and created liturgical items including altar cloths, stoles for clergy members and wall hangings. A prime example of his work is a beautiful color tapestry he created in 1996 to hang on the wall of his home church in Pond Creek.
"The first 12 years I was a teacher at the seminary; the next six I served as second vice president; and for 20 years I was a mission pastor," Father Orlett said at the time. "Now I see creating liturgical fabrics as the fourth phase of my priesthood."