A PASTOR, FIRST AND FOREMOST

At the moment I have begun an annual retreat with the Bishops from the Province of Los Angeles at the Cardinal Manning House of Prayer for Priests north of Los Angeles. You see the picture that I took from my room last night of the beautiful sunset. Before the days of rain, which thankfully seem to have arrived!

The beauty of this sunset at the close of this day point to a time of thanksgiving for the beauty of the season of the Lord’s birth: for the beauty and power of the feasts which we are still celebrating (The Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord) in this season, and for the generosity of spirit of all who have given of themselves for prayer, worship and service to all of God’s people in these sometimes hectic days, in addition to family and other responsibilities!

I would like to share with you a moment of reflection on the life of a priest whom most of you would not know, but who was a great friend, role model and help to me in my years in Fort Worth: Msgr. Thomas Weinzapfel, who passed away January 1, after just having celebrated the 70th anniversary of his priestly ordination by the legendary and long reigning Bishop Lynch of Dallas in 1945.

He just had a beautiful celebration of these 70 years on December 23 at St. Pius X parish in Dallas, (where he had been pastor for 40 years) when he fell and broke his hip on Christmas Day and passed away January 1.

I first met Msgr. Weinzapfel at the funeral of Bishop Joseph Delaney, my predecessor in Fort Worth, who passed away the day before my ordination as “Co-adjutor” Bishop. My first official act in a Diocese, which I did not know, was to bury my predecessor! I met Msgr. Weinzapfel and visited with him in the kitchen of the rectory of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We became good friends from that point on and he would call and check on me often.

Msgr. Weinzapfel grew up in an environment and knew how to be a pastor in the days when life in north Texas was still very much “frontier” and Catholics were a distrusted minority affected by nativism, anti-Catholicism and xenophobia in the early days of the last century. The towns of North Texas that he was associated with in the years of his youth (Scotland, Muenster and Windthorst) give some idea of the ethnic heritage of the Diocese of Dallas (and later Fort Worth) which still exerts influence to this day! In fact, the “general store “ in Windthorst stills bears his grandfather’s name!

He, on more than one occasion, knowing the local scene and culture well in the small rural towns of Fort Worth, would always give me good advice on the sometimes challenging pastoral situations well. He could do this because first and foremost he was a pastor — and he helped me greatly to become a pastor to the folks in North Texas. He was funny, caring, wise and quite direct! When I dedicated the new parish hall for St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he was the first guest to arrive… Ahead of even my good friend Bishop Kevin Farrell!

He was a communicator in his 40 years as pastor of St. Pius X in Dallas. Right up to the time of his death, (at age 90) he would drive from Dallas to Rowlett Texas each and every Sunday morning to celebrate Mass in the local parish. And that is not a short drive by any means.

Most of all, he was a pastor who cared deeply about the families of his parish at St. Pius X: that they would know the faith and find strength in the Lord in the challenges of family life! He was known for introducing each daily Mass with a few words of the life of the Saint of the Day.

I would invite you to know Msgr. Weinzapfel a little better by checking out Bishop Farrell’s blog entry written on the occasion of Msgr. Weinzapfel’s death: ow.ly/39EI27

Thank you Tom, for being another example to me of who and what a pastor should be. “Well done good and faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”