Ron Rolheiser was born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, in 1947, into a large family, to George and Matilda (Gartner) Rolheiser.
As a young child, Ron’s father George, along with his family, and other German- Russian families, immigrated from Saratov, Russia, and settled, as homesteaders, near the Alberta border where they established a community centered around St. Donatus Church in Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. Ron’s mother Matilda was from a family of homesteaders in a nearby area. After meeting George at a parish picnic, they married, acquired a farm, near Cactus Lake, within 4 miles of the original Rolheiser homestead.
Fr. Ron frequently writes about the influence his parents had on him.
“[My mother] complemented my father perfectly. Their affection and respect for each other was what, perhaps more than anything else, gave us, their children, an inchoate sense of safety, stability, and faith. My father was the moral compass, she was the heart; but they could reverse those roles and she could offer the moral challenge while he provided the sensitivity. Either way, they did it together and by the time they died, leaving behind a family that felt too young to be on its own, they had given us what they needed to, all the basic tools to build our own lives and to live with some buoyancy and joy.”
Both parents died young, in their early sixties, within three months of each other.
Life on a mixed farm included chores before and after school and helping with the seeding and harvest. Driving farm machinery as a teenager was one of the more enjoyable tasks. The family was active and competitive. Skating on frozen ponds in the winter, pick up hockey games, playing cards, board games and ping pong tournaments were part of winter evenings. Ball tournaments were a huge part of the summer. Every weekend found the family at parish picnics and sports days where family members played, coached and managed teams. Ron’s love of sports has roots in these family times. Family birthdays, feast days, weddings, and weekend dances often included cousins.
Education was highly valued by Ron’s parents. Excellence was expected and Ron rose to the challenge. He was an impatient scholar always looking for knowledge and ideas beyond the world he experienced. He shared a love of education and knowledge with his father, with whom he shared a strong bond and mutual respect.
Following his school years, Ron entered the novitiate of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and professed his First Vows in September 1966. Ordained to the priesthood in 1972, Ron continued his education, receiving a B.A. (University of Ottawa, 1969), B.Th. (Newman Theological College, 1973), M.A. (University of San Francisco, 1974), M.R.Sc. (University of Louvain, 1982) and Ph.D/STD (University of Louvain, 1983). During and after his own studies, he taught theology and philosophy at Newman Theological College, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
In 1982, while living and studying in Belgium, Fr. Ron began to write a regular feature column in the Canadian newspaper, The Western Catholic Reporter. The column offered reflections on various theological, church and secular issues. Choosing to call his column, In Exile, Fr. Ron wrote:
“All of us live our lives in exile. We live in our separate riddles, partially separated from God, each other, and even from ourselves. We experience some love, some community, some peace, but never these in their fullness. Our senses, egocentricity, and human nature place a veil between us and full love, full community, and full peace. We live, truly, as in a riddle: The God who is omnipresent cannot be sensed; others, who are as real as ourselves, are always partially distanced and unreal; and we are, in the end, fundamentally a mystery even to ourselves.”
Thirty-two years later, the popular column is carried by almost one hundred newspapers worldwide.
Fr. Ron’s writing wasn’t limited to a weekly column during that period. His first book, The Loneliness Factor (Dimension Books, Denville NJ) was published in 1979. It was followed by Spirituality for a Restless Culture (Twenty Third Publications, Mystic CN 1991), The Shattered Lantern (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1994, and Crossroads, New York, 1995), Against an Infinite Horizon (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995 and Crossroads, New York), The Holy Longing, (Doubleday, New York, 1999), The Restless Heart (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1998, Doubleday, New York, 2004), Forgotten among the Lilies (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1990, Doubleday, New York, 2005), Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist (Doubleday Religion, New York, 2011, Secularity and the Gospel: Being Missionary to our own Children (Crossroads, New York, 2006), and Prayer: Our Deepest Longing (Franciscan Media, Cincinnatti, 2013). Fr. Ron’s book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity (Image Books, Random House, New York, 2014) won Book of the Year, Catholic Book Awards, 2015, and Best Book in Spirituality, Catholic Book awards 2015. The Passion and the Cross (Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, 2015) is Ron’s latest book.
Fr. Ron is in demand and well known as speaker. Keeping an active speaking schedule, his retreats and workshops have inspired many. Along with his academic knowledge in systematic theology and philosophy, he has become a popular speaker in the areas of contemporary spirituality and religion and the secular world. Oblate Communications and Franciscan Communications has produced fifteen DVDs of his retreats that are well loved for both individual and group use.
In 1991, while on sabbatical, Fr. Ron was asked by his religious community to serve as the Provincial Superior of his home province. He served two terms as Provincial of St. Mary’s Province (Canada). In 1998, Fr. Ron was elected Regional Councilor for Canada, serving on the General Administration of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, in Rome, for six years. In August 2005, Fr. Ron became the President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio Texas, a position he maintains to this day.
Fr. Ron still is very involved in the life of his large extended family enjoying their annual hiking trips and New Year’s celebrations. Most Christmases you will find him in his home church, St. Donatus, near the former family farm in Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. Fr. Ron is also known for his commitment to prayer and exercise, a continuing love of sports, his sense of humor, his loyalty to his friends, and the enjoyment of the odd cigar and fine scotch.