Frank Smith, a deacon at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, still feels amazed about the first meeting with his new pastor.
About 90 people had gathered in a church member’s backyard. On their way in, they introduced themselves to the Rev. Monsignor Douglas Raun. After the meal, Raun went from table to table, getting to know folks.
“After an introduction one time, he remembered who we were,” Smith says. “Man’s got a memory like an elephant.
“Day to day, the more I know him, the more impressive he is,” he says. “He’s truly a man of God. He’s a priest 24-7. It’s truly a calling deep within his soul, and he lives it.”
It’s a calling the 49-year-old Raun says he felt as a boy growing up in Erie, Penn. It’s a calling that tugged at his soul when he was 8 years old and his family moved to New Mexico.
And it’s a calling, decades later, that rings just as clear for the bespectacled pastor who speaks in a cheerful, rolling voice and listens with a meditative tilt of his head.
“I still feel the same way as when I made my First Holy Communion,” Raun says, leaning comfortably into his office chair and alternately draping one arm or the other over its back. “From the time I was very young, I just thought what a beautiful thing that would be to be a priest, and thank God that thought has never left me.”
Since 1995, Raun has served as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, a Catholic church that he says has grown in 10 years from about 2,500 registered families to about 5,000 – even after 800 families left to establish a church in northern Rio Rancho.
That growth repeats itself across the city, where every corner seems to boast a church – 53 in all, one for every 1,000 residents. Albuquerque claims 321, or one for every 1,500 residents.
“Our happy problem here in the parish,” Raun says, “is we have more people wanting to come to church than we’re able to accommodate.
“We’ve been very blessed.”