Father Eugene Wolf reflects on what parish life meant to him
When Bishop John Treacy placed his hands on me on May 25, 1963, I bowed my head and reflected on the long road to that moment and consented—this is what God wants me to be. I can say, as a parish priest, I’ve never really been bored.
The first time I pronounced the words of absolution as a priest was a few days after my ordination, and over a man sprawled in the middle of Highway 10. There had been a head-on collision just before I got there. I had just been ordained, but in my studies no one had given any example such as this. My knees were literally shaking. I found out a few minutes later from the man’s wife, who had a broken arm, that they were not Catholic.
About 10 days later, I reported to St. James Parish in Eau Claire for my first assignment with excited anticipation. Just a couple of days after I arrived, a man came to the parish office asking to go to confession, which gave me the opportunity to say the words of absolution again, this time over a Catholic. No, I did not turn out to be a second Cure of Ars, but I have to say I continue to appreciate that gift of being able to forgive in the name of Our Savior, because I, too, appreciate being forgiven.
In the summer of 1982, the phone rang and Bishop Frederick Freking was on the other end of the line. His words, in summary, were that he wanted me to move and he gave me three choices. I told him I would think about it and call him back. I could not think of any reason to pick any or to not pick any of the three, so I called Bishop Freking back and told him that I would go to St. Patrick in Seneca because “I know the least about that parish.”
Little did I know I would be there for 29 years and four months.
One of the highlights of being there so long was celebrating two weddings of children from two marriages I had blessed earlier in my stay. There are good and not-so-good things in being in a parish that long. One of the good things for me was to feel a part of the parish family. Babies were born, baptized, started school, received holy Communion for the first time, moved into high school, were confirmed, graduated, went to college or the work force or the military, left home, got married and had their own children. I really felt the meaning of the title “Father.’”
Helping couples prepare for marriage was enjoyable for me. To see the excitement in them getting to know each other and knowing that marriage is the foundation of families made the time well worthwhile.
Funerals were always sad times, but also joyful times because families and friends who had assembled to grieve also got to see each other again. Tears could turn into laughter and life would go on. One of the saddest times was when there was a miscarriage and burial. The mother and father would not be able to see that child grow through all the stages to adulthood.
My goal was always to do my best to include the parishioners in all that would go on by keeping them informed and seeking their input. I remember there was a small group of 12 in the parish that I wondered about, widows, so I invited them to the rectory for an evening meal. By then, I had grown confident I could prepare a “scratch” meal for guests. I had two motives for them to come, one being to get some pointers on how to make a better meal and the other to get them together to share experiences on living alone. They gave me only compliments on the meal, so I was disappointed on that, but only a little. One of the ladies made a comment that they all knew each other, but had never been together at the same time. During the second meal, I asked, “What it is like to be without a husband?” Martha responded that she would get the mail and come into the house saying, “Alvin, we have a letter from …” and realize Alvin was no longer there. There was no one to share the everyday things shared before.
Looking back, I consider myself having been blessed in so many ways, especially in being able to serve the parishes in which I was assigned. The experience truly makes me feel I belong to the Order of St. Peter. Being a diocesan priest is what I feel I’ve been called to be. When I am asked what parish I’m in, I tell them the last parish was St. Patrick in Seneca, but now I have them all.
God is good.
By Father Eugene Wolf