Monsignor Terrence Watanabe likes his tea. That explains the nearly 100 teapots lining the top shelves of his office at St. Philomena Parish in Salt Lake.
Most are gifts from friends and admirers of this fun-loving priest who prefers to be called simply "Father Terry." The collection started as a single teapot from a friend, then grew to two, eventually becoming the impressive assortment of Chinese porcelain and ceramics that it is today.
Watanabe, 52, enjoys his teapots, but never more than the pictures he receives from friends over his nearly three decades as a priest. "It's nice to know people still think about you," he says, "and that you sort of make a difference in their lives a little bit, even though you're not seeing them all the time." He smiles proudly at two high school graduation pictures he received just the other day; both are of teens he baptized as infants. Another bookshelf displays photos of his parents, grandparents, niece and nephews.
Family is important to Watanabe. He's especially close to his "very religious" grandmother, whom he partly credits for his chosen vocation. As kids, he and his younger brother often slept over at their grandparents' house on weekdays. "If we would be sleeping in the living room, early in the morning, she'd be up and getting Grandpa's kau kau tin ready [for him] to go work on the plantation, and she'd be walking around the house praying the rosary," he recalls.
At just 13, the impressionable Catholic school boy left his Maui home to enter St. Stephen's Seminary in Kane'ohe on O'ahu. He returned every summer through college to work at the Maui Land & Pineapple Co. cannery. While unsure yet if the priesthood was for him, he did realize that manual labor was not. Still, he had a good time. "The ladies took such good care of me every day," he says, chuckling. "After the first two days of work, I never had to bring lunch."
When college graduation came, Watanabe had to make a career decision. He settled on the priesthood when he realized that through the church he could offer much to the many "lonely people out there."
Indeed, the priesthood has given Watanabe a busy, fulfilling life. He has met the pope twice, and marvels at how his job enables him to touch people's lives during the highs and lows. "Sometimes it's just listening to them," he says. "It doesn't take much, but it makes a big difference in their lives." He's given comfort, for example, to a couple whose long-awaited first child was born with a serious medical condition. Father Terry's daily prayers helped ease the parents' difficult time.
Watanabe's work on HMSA's board of directors is also satisfying, he says. He recognizes the board's efforts "to do our best to keep costs down, and make sure we're not putting such a heavy burden on people." And to the board itself, he hopes he brings "a sense of humor, a sense of joy, and a sense of appreciating the goodness of life." He also serves on other boards, including Mental Help Hawaii, Inc. and the Institute for Human Services, as well as on committees at Aloha United Way and the American Red Cross.
But Watanabe isn't all about work. He enjoys shopping, and relaxes by reading and listening to his collection of jazz, classical and New Age music. On his last vacation he visited relatives in New York, and theater-hopped to four Broadway musicals.
Work or play, highs or lows, Watanabe focuses on the positive. Because, he says, "in all of these events, we're celebrating life."