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Year for Priests at 601 S. Jefferson Ave., Springfield, MO 65806 US - Rev. Paul Wightman, OMI Ordained May 31, 1955

Rev. Paul Wightman, OMI
Ordained May 31, 1955

To the altar of God

“Introibo and altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.”

These words popped into my mind as I read a letter from my fourth grade teacher, Sr. Mary Bernard Braun, ASC, who taught me my Mass prayers as I prepared to be a server. I was attending SS. Peter and Paul School in Waterloo, IL. I did not know what those words meant at the time: “I will go unto the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth.” At that age it was too early to consider a call to the priesthood; but looking back, the words seem somewhat prophetic.

At that time, a young man from our parish celebrated his first solemn high Mass in our church. I remember my mother remarking to me, “Watch carefully because it will be a long time before you will see another first Mass here in our church.” Neither of us dreamed that I would offer the next first solemn Mass there.

I grew up in Waterloo, a farming community. I lived with my parents, grandparents, a brother, sister, and a cousin. I was the oldest of the children. My father and grandfather were pharmacists in Waterloo. My father was a very devout Catholic and attended daily Mass. Most of the family went to church on Lenten Fridays for the Stations of the Cross and, of course, all attended Sunday Mass.

When I was in eighth grade, our pastor was often ill. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate from the prep seminary in Belleville, IL, often helped out in the parish on weekends. On the occasion of a Forty Hours devotion, the Oblate vocation director came to the parish. I and another boy served his Mass. I was under the impression that the priest thought that the other boy was a more likely candidate for the seminary. Well, I was the one who responded. I enrolled in St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, and spent six years there; then a year of novitiate in Godfrey, IL.; then six years in various Oblate seminaries. I was ordained by Bp. Oliver Gerow in Pass Christian, MS, in 1955, and offered my first Mass in my home parish that year.

My first assignment was to teach in St. Henry Seminary. I soon acquired the job of bursar and found myself in charge of maintenance. I and the Oblates on the staff taught classes six days a week and were assigned to help out in local parishes on weekends.

How did I end up serving in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau for 20 years? This could be a story in itself. From my college days I was interested in exploring the caves near my home in Monroe County, IL. I lucked out and found a cave there that took me years to explore and map. I was hooked on caves. From my location in Belleville, I was near enough to the cave to go there on free days with some of the seminarians. A friend of mine in St. Louis told me of a cave on his property on the Current River in southern Missouri, near Eminence. After that most of my vacations or holiday breaks were spent on or near the Current River. (I offered my first Mass facing the people in Eminence, MO). I was hooked on southern Missouri.

In the midst of this, my Oblate superiors decided that I needed a change. I left St. Henry’s reluctantly. My new assignment was to the Oblate parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Mansfield, with missions of St. Leo the Great in Ava and St. William in Gainesville. Since there were two Oblates in the area, I was assigned St. William in Gainesville (the “outpost,” I called it),  some 45 miles south of Mansfield.

It was a wonderful experience of parish ministry. I became the first resident pastor at St. William’s, and I got to know all of my parishioners well—got to most of their homes. The North Fork River was nearby, so parish canoe float trips were on the agenda. After eight years in Gainesville, I was given an assignment at St. Mary Parish in Two Inlets, MN. I complained to the Benedictine priest whom I was replacing about the shock of moving from southern Missouri to northern Minnesota. He responded, “Don’t worry about it; I came from an assignment in the Bahamas to northern Minnesota.”

After six years there, I returned to Ava and Mansfield to help Fr. Leonard Baldus, OMI. I was back in Missouri again. About four years later I received a call from the Oblate director of personnel. He began by saying to me, “Sit down.” I responded, “Is this really necessary?” He insisted. So I sat down. Then he asked, “How would you like to go to Alaska? I need to know in three days.” So I was off to St. Gregory Nazianzen Parish in Sitka, AK. After four years there, I was called back to Ava to replace Fr. Baldus, who had retired.

Now, with the help of Deacon Joe Kurtenbach and Fr. Jeffrey Fasching, who provides sacramental ministry, I serve the churches at Mansfield, Ava, Gainesville, Cabool, and Mountain Grove. So, except for six years in northern Minnesota and four years in Alaska, the rest of my ministry has been in southern Missouri, where I hope to be until I have to retire or the Lord calls me.

The Lord has greatly blessed me.

Fr. Wightman is the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Mansfield, St. Leo the Great Mission, Ava, St. William Mission, Gainesville, and the canonical pastor for Sacred Heart Parish, Mountain Grove, and St. Michael Mission, Cabool.



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