Published on March 13th, 2015 | by M. Morford


Tacoma’s Saint Bix

If anyone should be Tacoma’s patron saint, that person should be Father Bix.

Bix was born in Tacoma, and like many of us, left his home town to do great things. But Bix came home to do even greater things. Bix loved his neighborhood, his community, and his country in ways few of us will know.

Bix knew that real love is never distant or abstract; real love, of a person, place or nation is always messy, contradictory, all-consuming and, perhaps above all, costly.

Bix walked the haunted alleys of his neighborhood, heard the stories of those around him and held the wounded hands of those who lived their ragged stories in those forsaken (by most of us) places.

He felt as comfortable, and as called, to confront the bland mechanism of nuclear annihilation as he did to comfort the writhing pain or disorientation of a struggling neighbor or even stranger.

He was willing, many times, to put his life, his reputation, and his personal freedom on the line to make a point. He believed in, and loved, at a level too few of us can understand.

Father Bix by Michael Hochstatter

On the left is a house in Tacoma called “Jean’s House of Prayer.” On the right is Father Bix, the Catholic Jesuit priest who lived there until his passing on February 28, 2015. I got the opportunity to shoot this photo of Father Bill “Bix“ Bichsel in January. He stands under a banner that reads “disarm nuclear weapons” that he brought back from South Korea where, in November, he had protested the construction of the Jeju Naval Base. Father Bix was arrested 45 times and served a total of two and a half years in both jail and prison because of his nonviolent civil disobedience at military bases protesting to end nuclear weapons. – Photograph and caption by Michael Hochstatter.

In his lifetime The Trident Nuclear Submarine Base was built, as was the Northwest Detention Center. Both were an affront to his sense of decency, humanity, and Northwest identity. Trident promised security and the Detention Center promised jobs. Both, according to Bix, were a deception and a disgrace.

Bix knew that to love someone or some place, sometimes you need to be a physical reminder, even an obstacle at times, to bring back into focus what that person or place could be, or used to be, or used to dream of being.

There is no pride or promise in the ability to destroy or incarcerate.

There is no humanity in death or deportation. In fact we have lost our humanity when we have given in to our fears, suspicions and stereotypes.

Bix called us to be more, much more, human, much more broken and available, more perhaps than we would like.

He will be missed. But knowing Bix, he wouldn’t want to be missed. He would want us to continue, to follow the truth and the light, no matter how costly, no matter how embarrassing or disruptive.

Who are we after all, if we do not give ourselves for what we love?

Just as Bix saw The School of The Americas, with its support and protection of dictators and police states, as the antithesis of the place and identity of the USA, the Detention Center is a total violation of the freedom and opportunity inherent in American history and identity.And the Trident Nuclear Submarine system, with its capacity for destruction of multiple cities, is humanity’s declaration of mass suicide.

Bix did his best to get us to acknowledge the deepest and most enduring humanity – and inhumanity.

If Tacoma ever has a patron saint, I can only hope we deserve one as confrontational, cantankerous and discomfiting as Bix.


Saint Leo’s Parish will host a number of events where we can celebrate the life of Father Bix:

More information can be found at the Puget Sound Nuclear Weapon Free Zone site.

Featured image by R.R. Anderson; thank you to Michael Hochstatter for contributing the portrait of Father Bix.

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About the Author

Writer, teacher, community story-teller, poet, advocate of the oddities of earthly existence. Scavenger of the unlikely.

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