The Rev. Raymond Aydt didn't come from a rural background, but he's spent most of his life serving as a priest in northwest North Dakota. He's celebrating his 65th year as a priest here and still is the priest at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Grenora.
"I can no longer drive," he explained, but "people from Williston take turns (driving me) so I don't have to worry about it."
Aydt also serves as a Catholic chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in Williston.
Theresa Lacher, of Williston, receives Holy Communion from the Rev. Raymond Aydt during Mass at Mercy Medical Center in Williston on Thursday.
Aydt said there's such a shortage of priests in the Catholic Church that it's unlikely the people at St. Boniface would have a priest to say regular Mass if he were unable to do it. As a result, the people in the church appreciate having a priest available.
"The people are wonderful," he said.
Janell Sailer, of Williston, who organizes the 25 or so volunteers who drive Aydt to Grenora, said she didn't have any problem finding people eager to make the trip. Aydt is a popular figure in Williston, where he has been involved in many community activities over the years. He belongs to a pinochle group, played the drums in th community's drum and bugle corps and helped out with community concerts when he was able, and helped out at First Lutheran Church's lutefisk suppers at one time. He also was called on to give eulogies at funerals for non-Catholics.
"He's a very caring priest," said Sailer. "He just knows the right things to say. He's just so knowledgeable, so brilliant. We enjoy his homilies."
The Grenora parish is a small parish, with 22 families and about 30 to 50 people attending Mass on any given Sunday. Most of the members of the parish are older people, though Aydt did celebrate a recent baptism.
"It functions like a family," said Aydt, and the people in the church know how to manage the affairs of the parish smoothly. The volunteers who make the drive, which is about 90 miles round trip, also enjoy the hospitality. They also enjoy socializing with people from St. Boniface after the service.
Aydt, who will turn 90 in October, said he likes to stay busy. His age does slow him down somewhat, though not a lot. He technically works only half days and said he tires a bit more easily now.
"As long as I'm physically and mentally capable, I'd just as soon work," he said. "What (else) would I do?"
Aydt prefers the rural landscape of northwest North Dakota. He was raised in Minneapolis and attended Catholic grade schools there, then he went on to attend a seminary in St. Paul. He served during World War II and then went on to be ordained as a priest in Bismarck.
"I really hate big cities," said Aydt, who said he chose to serve in the Bismarck Diocese. "As far as I'm concerned, Minot is too big."
The people in rural northwest North Dakota are a bit more down to earth and the pace a bit slower than you might find in a larger city, he said.
"It's been an interesting life," said Aydt, who has served under all of the bishops in the Bismarck Diocese except for the first one. "I started under Bishop Ryan."
He's seen a lot of change in his long life, including the changes that are happening in Williston, which is booming along with the oil industry and is struggling with growing pains.
"It's so rapid you can't keep up with it," he said.
Aydt plans to keep serving as a hospital chaplain and as the priest for St. Boniface Parish as long as he is able.