Father Yvon Royer’s ministry as a priest was shaped by his experience growing up on a farm as part of a large family.
“Farming has taught me a lot of lessons that I have carried into my ministry,” said the pastor of St. Peter Church in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Church in Bristol. These include the value of working hard and the importance of taking care of what one is responsible for: people and property.
Farming helped him to be practical in his approach to all situations and to be able to see that like the land needed to be cared for -- tilled, stones removed and given proper nutrition –- people’s relationship with God needs attention.
Father Royer, 54, has been influenced by the image of the Good Shepherd and by exposure at an early age to the reality of tragedy.
The son of Andrew and Bertha Royer, he was born in Newport in 1963, the second of five children. His mother died suddenly at the age of 55 in 1993; his father remarried and lives in Derby with his wife, Annette.
In 1975, when young Yvon was in the seventh grade, his father became seriously ill and was not able to work for more than a year. Then a cow broke some of his ribs, and he lost an eye through a farming accident. “Each incident left my father unable to work for a period of time, and we [Father Royer and his two brothers] just took over” the farm operations, Father Royer said.
He first lived on a farm in Holland and then on one in Newport Center.
“My parents believed that if we were old enough to go to school then we were old enough to do chores,” he said. “Thus starting in first grade my brother and I, (we are what is known as ‘Irish twins’ because we were both born in the same year) were responsible for cleaning and feeding the heifers for both morning and afternoon chores.”
By the time they were 10 they were responsible for milking the cows and rose at 5 a.m. They did chores until it was time to get ready for school; after school they went to the barn until about 7 p.m. to do the evening chores. “I never really minded doing chores except on Sunday evenings when I would have rather been watching football,” he said.
During the haying season his two brothers and he worked in the fields during the day and then decided who was going to continue to work in the fields and who would take care of the chores. “I did most of the baling. Back then we would end up with around 20,000 small square bails that we would put on an elevator into our hay barn above the livestock which consisted of 70 milking cows and 50 heifers,” he said.
Father Royer attended Newport Center Elementary School until seventh grade when he discerned that he might be called to the priesthood. He transferred to Sacred Heart Elementary School in Newport and graduated from Sacred Heart High School; both schools are now closed.
He graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester with bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a minor in philosophy.
Upon graduation he entered St. Paul’s Seminary in Ottawa and earned a diploma in pastoral counseling; he was ordained a priest in 1990.
The Royer family farm was called “The A&B Farm & Sons,” the initials of his parents. The farm was sold in 1996, three years after his mother died. “Before we sold the farm, we sold the rights of the land to Vermont Land trust which would help ensure that the land could remain as farmland and not be developed. It has sold again, and it is still a working farm,” Father Royer said.
Two of his brothers own their own farms nearby.
Attending Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Newport was always a priority for Mr. and Mrs. Royer. “If we were not able to get to the early Mass on Sunday then we knew that we would be going to the later Mass,” Father Royer said.
Two experiences led him to become aware of the importance of his relationship with God. The first was when he broke his leg during a ski outing in the fifth grade. “In the six weeks that I was not able to do chores, our religious education class was working on what prayer was,” he said. “As crazy as it sounds, I am forever grateful that I did break my leg because it allowed me the time to foster my relationship with God through my prayer life. That relationship has never wavered.”
The second experience was his father’s illness in 1975. “Because I felt comfortable with God, I told Him that if He healed my father I would become a priest. He is still living, and I am a priest. I really wonder what God was thinking as He listened to my offer.”
His parents, the family’s practice of the Catholic faith and their connection to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church all influenced his vocation. And now, as a priest, his greatest joy is found in the many opportunities that he has to share the joy of God’s love in his many one-on-one interactions and via the classes he teaches as a parish priest.
“The greatest challenge is to help our parishioners recognize that despite our hectic lives a connection to one’s parish family is needed,” Father Royer said. “We need to know that we are truly part of a bigger plan, a plan that is part of God’s mission for us. Being part of a faith community helps us keep this as a focus. We have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to all that God has created.”
He currently serves as dean of Addison County, a member of the Presbyteral Council and a member of the College of Consultors. He is the chaplain for the Daughters of Isabella and the chairperson of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He has served churches in Rutland, Chittenden, Burlington, Derby Line, West Charleston and Newport and was assistant chaplain at the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont.
Asked for his advice for a young person considering a call from God to religious life or priesthood, Father Royer responded: “A lifetime of happiness will only be found when we say ‘yes’ to God’s plan for us. Do not let fear stop us from saying ‘yes’ to God’s call. Who is it that we should desire to please more, God or society? I would also say that as a priest we receive many blessings and honors because of our priesthood, but our desire to answer God’s call should always be focused on the desire to be of service. May we learn to follow Jesus’ example of how we are to love, serve and forgive as Jesus has done for us.”
Originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.