The deer hunter priest

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette comes this unusual story of a priest who also hunts.  Amazing but true: here’s a priest looking for big bucks, but not in the collection plate…

Meet Mr. Mike Zavage (above, on the left), and his son, Father Mike Zavage:

Deer hunting for many is a solitary sport, but in the Zavage household it has always been a shared experience. Father Zavage, parochial vicar at St. Anne Catholic Church in Castle Shannon, was born on the first day of buck season in 1982 and has been hunting with his dad since he was 12. His father, in turn, learned the sport at the same age from his father, Andy, who owned a grocery store near Uniontown.

“In Fayette and Greene counties, that’s what all the young men did,” said Mr. Zavage, 55, a coal miner-turned-mechanic who for the past 34 years has worked for Cumberland Coal Resources. “It’s a tradition for the area. You turn 12 and take hunter’s safety.”

Back when he was a kid in the ’60s, the group typically included a half-dozen or more dads, uncles and brothers all going out together, Mr. Zavage remembered. All but one of his brothers is now deceased. So the fact his only son is out here with him, well, “it’s good you can pass it on,” he said.

Deer hunting is popular enough in this corner of the state that countless boys (and some girls) take off school on the opening day of buck season, which this year fell on Nov. 29, the same day doe season began. But a priest who hunts? Some might find that upsetting; St. Frances of Assisi, after all, is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals.

Father Zavage understands he’s more the exception than the rule; he knows of only one other priest who shares his passion for deer season, and this year he had to pass up the chance to join Father Zavage because of a funeral. Yet when you grow up in Greene County — God’s country, as he likes to tell his parishioners — hunting isn’t so much a hobby as a way of life.

Hunting is also a way for men who find it difficult to tell one another how much they care to demonstrate it. In his Father’s Day homily this past June, Father Zavage recounted for his congregation how last year, his father couldn’t hold a gun because he’d had shoulder surgery. Instead, he spent many hours over several days trying to drive deer toward his son. On the last day of hunting season, with his help, his son bagged a button buck.

“My dad is not a man of many words, but his actions definitely speak louder than words,” he said in his sermon. “Not only did he not get to hunt, but he had to walk miles every day to push the deer to me.”

If that’s not love, what is?

Read more at the Post-Gazette link.


  1. Hmmm… Venison sausage at the parish breakfast? Or maybe venison stew at the parish dinner?

  2. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    I hope this priest isn’t verbally and otherwise assaulted by animal lover fanatics the way Sarah Palin has been viciously and intemperately attacked for shooting caribou in Alaska. (Even though in that expensive-to-live in state nearly everyone there fortifies their food supplies with meat from hunting.)

  3. Although I am not myself a hunter, I know Fr. Zavage (as well as the other hunter priest mentioned in the article). I also own farm property in the same county as his hometown.

    Others hunt on my property, and I have been rewarded with venison from their bounty – I’ve learned to make a “great” venison chili, which I’ve shared with the parish. And it has been much appreciated!

  4. But a priest who hunts? Some might find that upsetting; St. Frances of Assisi, after all, is the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals.

    … but was St Francis a vegetarian? Maybe Cecile Richards never gets her hands dirty, but she still cashes the proverbial checks … and just because I enjoy a good T bone steak doesn’t mean that I’m mean to cows while they’re still grazing among us ;-)

  5. St. Francis may be the patron saint of animals, but St. Hubert is the patron saint of hunters. Makes ya kinda wonder how they all get along up there.

  6. I was 14 when my dad took me on my first hunt. There was myself my dad one of his work friends and Father Art Meyers. That was almost 60 years ago now. We got skunked that day but it got me into hunting and I kept it up until four years ago when I had to stop because of health reasons. Priests that liked to hunt were not an oddity in Northern Ontario Canada back then.

  7. Father Joe Classen of the St. Louis Archdiocese is an avid hunter that has taken his hobby to a new level. He has a website and has written such books as “Hunting For God, Fishing For The Lord” and “Meat and Potatoes Catholicism.”

    You should check him out.

    Deacon in Training Jim (Class of 2014)

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