I met Father Bill Wigand when he was the pastor at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Weingarten. We had a great discussion about Catholic stewardship over lunch, and he gave me a brief historical tour of the area.
A few years later, Father Bill moved to Regina Cleri, a home for retired priests. He celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation every Wednesday at the Cardinal Rigali Center, where I work. Over the past five years or so, Father Bill became my primary confessor.
When you go to the same priest every month for five-plus years confessing your sins, the priest gets to know a little about you. I appreciated Father Bill as my confessor. I saw him acting “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ), as a friend who was helping me in my relationship with the Holy Trinity and with my relationship with family, friends and colleagues. Through confession, Father Bill knew the names of my family and friends and his spiritual counseling was personal and helpful. I looked forward to confession. Father Bill comforted me. He became the face of Jesus, and I know he was acting as Christ through his wise and gentle demeanor. Sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace and, through weekly reconciliation, Father Bill did that for many of us.
Father Bill died in December.
The faithful and many of his brother priests packed the chapel for his memorial Mass. I know many of the priests through the stewardship ministry. They have welcomed me into their parishes, and we have become friends — another one of those gifts that I cherish. Just as I went to Father Bill for forgiveness, we too, should follow Christ’s example and show more compassion, mercy and forgiveness to our priests. We were made for relationships with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, angels, saints and our family, friends and neighbors. We should be intentional in befriending and defending them. We should invite priests over for dinner and stand up for them when we hear unwarranted, negative comments. Priests are gifts to us. And, just like any gift, we have to freely accept it to appreciate it.
Pray for the soul of Reverend William Wigand. May he rest in peace.
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County. He can be reached at (314) 792-7215 or [email protected]