Frank Joseph Knusel
June 29, 1941 – December 25, 2020
On June 29, 1941, Xaver and Florence Knusel welcomed their first child and only son, Frank Joseph Knusel, into their lives and took him back home to the family’s dairy farm in Scappoose, Oregon to raise him. Known as “Lieutenant Knusel,” and later “Father Frank,” but known to his parents, family, and close friends as “Frankie,” Frank lived on the family homestead as a child and then again in the last decades of his life.
After attending St. Frederic’s grade school in St. Helens, Oregon, and graduating from Scappoose High School, Frank joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Portland, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics magna cum laude in June 1963. He was then commissioned into the Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant. Approximately two years later, Lt. Knusel graduated from pilot school, Webb AFB Class 65-D. Between September 1965 and December 1968, Lt. Knusel was stationed in the 44th MAC Squadron, completing approximately 2,000 hours in C141 aircraft, often flying a route from Travis AFB (California), Hickam AFB (Hawaii), Clark AFB (Philippines), Cam Ranh Bay AFB (Vietnam), Yokota AFB,( Japan ), and back to Travis AFB.
Lt. Knusel’s years of service in the military set him on a path to the priesthood. When asked why he decided to go to seminary, he answered: “After four years of hauling military equipment to Vietnam, and bringing back the wounded and dead to the US, I had thought I would find more meaning in life and help more people in the ministry or priesthood.” Frank spent the next four years in theological studies at Mt. Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Oregon.
Frank befriended and learned Spanish from the Mexican seminarians and came to love both the Spanish language and Hispanic culture, a love that would prove extremely important to his later ministry. He spent much of his time during seminary helping Hispanic families in the small towns around Mt. Angel, visiting parishes with large Hispanic communities teaching catechism and music to sing in the liturgies, and conversing with the faithful about his trips to Mexico and other places. He drove to and from Mexico many times during seminary, either by himself, or with his parents.
On May 12, 1973, “Father Frank” was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest at St. Wenceslaus Church in Scappoose, Oregon, by Archbishop Robert Dwyer. Due to his unwavering dedication to Hispanic families over the years, Father Frank was named to serve the Vicariate San Salvador as Assistant Vicar from 1973 to 1974, the Acting Vicar from 1978 to 1979, and the Vicar from 1979 to 1987. He also served as pastor at St. Alexander’s Catholic Church in Cornelius, Oregon from 1974 until August 1982. During that time, Father Frank worked closely with the Immigration Counseling Service, Oregon’s oldest and only independent nonprofit immigration law firm.
He also served on the boards of the not-for-profit agencies Centro Cultural of Washington County, and the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, both founded by migrant families in the early 1970’s. Beginning in August 1980, and continuing for nearly two decades, Father Frank served as the Pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in northwest Portland.
In addition to a love of God and service toward others, Father Frank had a deep and abiding love of language. He was fluent in English, Swiss-German, Spanish, French, and Russian, and had a working knowledge of many others, including Arabic, Hebrew, Czech, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, and Italian. He loved reading the Bible in Hebrew and memorized the entire 51st Psalm in Hebrew and recited it whenever asked. He loved to conjugate words, particularly names, and would talk at length about the origin and meanings of words.
In 1996, Father Frank’s love of God, and all of God’s languages and cultures prompted him to study and receive bi-ritual faculties from the Vatican in 1996, allowing him to serve the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church. In August 2004, Father Frank accepted a “temporary” position as Pastor of St. Irene Byzantine Catholic Church in Portland, Oregon. He served in that “temporary” capacity for the next 15 years, finally retiring on August 1, 2019, when his health failed. During those 15 years, Father Frank studied Ukrainian and presided over services in Old Church Slavonic. Father Frank continued to officiate with Father Vasyl Mutka through July 19, 2020.
Frank’s family shared a love of music and played together for years in a Swiss family orchestra. Frank was a gifted musician and had a keen musical ear from an early age. Early on, he played the piano, clarinet, and saxophone. Later, he took up other instruments including the accordion, organ, banjo, and mandolin. He composed a classical piece for his piano recital when in high school, and friends describe his ability to listen to music then immediately play it back with no written music, to adjust his piano playing to fit the voices in singing groups, and to join in playing with bands with no prior practice and without missing a note.
Frank especially loved playing the Swiss Landler music with fellow musicians in the Swiss community. In 1983, the Cantores in Ecclesia took up residence at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Father Frank welcomed their presence, presided over many Latin Masses sung by the choir, and traveled with the choir to Mexico City and Rome. For several years, he played in Swiss bands along with his lifelong friend, Robert Ulrich, eventually acting as the Music Director of the 2008 Saengerfest (26th Pacific Coast Swiss Yodeling and Singing Festival) in Portland, Oregon. Father Frank is a life member of the Columbia River Theatre Organ Society and enjoyed attending Hollywood Theater’s presentations of silent movies with live organ accompaniment.
Father Frank loved to travel and to share his ministry. In the photo, he is celebrating All Souls’ Day Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, in Knock, Ireland.
Father Frank passed away early Christmas morning. He was preceded in death by his parents Florence and Xaver Knusel and by his niece, Christine Choi. He is survived by his sister, JoAn Choi, of Seattle, Washington, as well as nieces and nephews living in the Seattle area (Theresa Choi, Elizabeth Choi Rudd, Theodore (“Teddy”) Choi, Christopher Choi, and Matthew Choi); grand-nieces and nephews; and a multitude of friends and relatives in Oregon, Switzerland, and Argentina whom he loved dearly and with whom he kept in close contact.
Family and friends are deeply indebted to the ministry of Fr. Vasyl Mutka to Father Frank, especially during the last weeks of his life. Per Father Frank’s wishes, donations in his honor may be made to St. Irene Byzantine Catholic Church where Father Frank spent “many happy years.”
Services are as follows:
St. Irene’s Byzantine Catholic Church, 4630 N. Maryland Ave., Portland:
Sunday, Jan 17, 6 p.m. – Parastas with Rt. Rev. Josef Stanichar
Monday, Jan 18, noon to 4 p.m. – Visitation
4 p.m. – Divine Liturgy with Rt. Rev. Josef Stanichar
St. Patrick Catholic Church, 1623 NW 19th Ave., Portland:
Tuesday, Jan 19, 10 a.m. – Funeral Mass with Archbishop Alexander Sample
and Cantores in Ecclesia
St. Wenceslaus Cemetery, 51555 SW Old Portland Road, Scappoose:
Tuesday, Jan 19, 12:30 p.m. – Grave blessing and committal with Fr. Vasyl Mutka
Please contact Agnes Petersen or Mary Anne Anderson at 503-438-8399, if you would like to attend any of these services, space is limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some services may be livestreamed. If so, details, including the link for livestreamed services, will be published on the parish websites of St. Irene’s and/or St. Patrick’s. A memorial video will also be compiled and published following the services.
Here are links to all the LIVESTREAMS of Services for Father Frank Knusel. ALL links are PUBLIC -- no need to have a specific social media account, including to the link at St. Patricks (hosted through Facebook, BUT YOU DO NOT NEED A FACEBOOK ACCOUNT TO WATCH).