“Who else has a fair in their front yard? I love it,” Donna Bass says with a laugh as she describes her life as the wife a Catholic priest.

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Donna Bass, wife of Father Frank Bass, talks with St. Michael cross country runners Sarah Wilson, Erica Charlton and Anna Conaway. Photo by Barbara Chenevert | The Catholic Commnetator

 

Bass is in a unique position as the wife of the only married priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, but she said she feels just like any other working mom and spouse.

“I bleed like anybody else,” she said. “It’s just the path that God has us on.”

Bass is married to Father Frank Bass, pastor of St. Isidore Church in Baker and St. Pius X Church in Baton Rouge. The two live in the rectory at St. Isidore which hosted its fall festival in October.

Father Bass had been an Episcopal priest at the second largest Episcopal Church in the nation before the entire family converted to Catholicism in 1995 and moved to Baton Rouge, Donna Bass’s hometown. Father Bass taught religion in local Catholic high schools and worked as a church choir director and organist while he went through the process which allowed him to be ordained a Catholic priest in 2003.

“Do I feel different? Yes and no,” Donna Bass said. As the wife of an Episcopal priest, there was a command performance – a certain amount of things that were expected of her, she said. There is no protocol for a wife of a Catholic priest. There is no expected behavior. “People don’t always know what to do with me, but they love me,” she said.

“My path is to be the mother of the home and family and support my husband. My No. 1 goal is taking care of Frank. That’s my calling. It’s a little different because you never know when he may have to run somewhere, just like a doctor’s life. But it has always been that way for us. That’s our life.”

Donna Bass has a long day herself as a physical education and religion teacher at St. Michael the Archangel Regional High School, where she is also the assistant cross country coach. Much of her time is spent on what she calls her passions – school athletics and the pro-life movement that has taken her on the March for Life in Washington, D.C., five times.

When she gets home in the evenings “sometimes Frank is there and sometimes he’s not,” she said.

“I understand why priests need to be single. It is a hard life to be married to the church and all the responsibilities. It takes a lot of focus. But this is what God called us to do.

“All priests have a family, parents to take care of and siblings. Our priests today are wonderful men. I admire their fortitude,” she said.

Frank and Donna Bass and their three children were serving at an Episcopal church in Dallas when they were drawn to the Catholic faith. Donna Bass said while her husband was teaching a course on the fathers of the Church, the couple started to understand that there was richness in the Catholic faith that they were missing. “I left (the Episcopal church) first. The children and I started attending Catholic Masses. We left such a large congregation that people didn’t really notice that we weren’t at one of the Episcopal masses. But then in January of 1995, Frank resigned.

“We didn’t leave so that he could be a Catholic priest. We left because of the fullness of the Catholic faith, and we wanted it all,” she said.

But the change didn’t prove to be easy. They were “attacked spiritually,” something she said she didn’t want to talk about, and had to take a significant loss of income. “For nine months we had no jobs. We sold our house in Dallas. We had to use the money we had been saving for our children’s college (education.) They didn’t get to go to Catholic school because we couldn’t afford it. We had to start all over. But we moved on. We stayed focused on Jesus.”

Religion was always a focus in the Bass home, especially around the dinner table and the children, twins, Sarah and Paul, and son, Joseph, were able to adjust to their new lives. “We knew we were going to be on display for a while, but if the children had any problems, they never told us. The children were very proud,” Donna Bass said.

In Baton Rouge, they purchased a house that Donna Bass had actually lived in years before. And, ironically she got a job as a teacher at St. Isidore School, the same church parish where Father Bass is now the pastor.

Father Bass got a job teaching at St. Michael High School and Donna Bass joined him on the faculty a few years later. Father Bass eventually moved to Redemptorist High School where he taught religion until just two years ago. She said her husband taught school during the week and worked as a church organist and/or choir director, first at St. Mary’s Church in New Roads and then at St. Thomas More in Baton Rouge.

All the while her husband held a desire to be a Catholic priest “if it was in God’s plan,” she said. At first, Bishop Alfred Hughes said no, she said. “It was so heavy on Frank’s heart, I encouraged him to ask again. ‘All he could say is no,’ I told him.” But this time the bishop agreed, and Father Bass underwent the process of becoming a Catholic priest under the pastoral provisions issued by Blessed John Paul II that allowed former Episcopal priests to be ordained.

Even after Father Bass’s ordination, the family continued to live in their house in Broadmoor Subdivision, as there was no provision for a family to live in a rectory. The couple also had to draw enough salary to raise a family. When Father Bass was named pastor of the clustered parishes of St. Isidore and St. Pius, he was able to quit teaching. The couple now live in the rectory on the St. Isidore campus. Their three children, all of whom attended college, are now living on their own.

Donna Bass described the people of St. Isidore and St. Pius as “beautiful people, very gracious,” and said she never felt any resistance toward her because of her marriage.

However, just as the couple settled into their life in the rectory, they received another cross – Donna was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. “I was overwhelmed by the people of the diocese,” she said, adding she received cards and well wishes from across the diocese and from every parish where Father Bass had served. As she was talked, she pulled a relic of Blessed Francis Seelos from inside her shirt, which she said was given to her by St. George Church, Father Bass’ previous assignment. “So many people who don’t even know me sent cards. It was really the body of Christ at work. And, now I can be a witness for other people,” she said. She is now cancer free.

Tall and lean, Donna Bass said she and her husband are opposites. She is “outdoorsy,” rides bikes and participates in triathlons. He loves music and to read, although they both enjoy fishing, the beach and visiting cemeteries.

The Basses met at Centennary College in Shreveport, where they both were in faith-related curricula – she in Christian education and youth ministry and he in sacred music, voice and organ.

As a religion teacher, Donna Bass said she is blessed to have the opportunity to continue to learn about the riches of Scripture, liturgy and the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

“Life is great. I don’t have to go far to get to church,” she said, with a laugh. “I know I’m unique, but I’m not that different from anyone else. But one thing, I don’t go to confession to Frank!” she added.