Ophelia Wilson has made service to the Church a lifetime endeavor. Even in retirement, Wilson said, “I’m not going to let the grass grow around my feet.”
Wilson, 76, a member of St. Nicholas Parish in St. Louis, was honored April 25 with the Father Ed Feurerbacher Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Charles Lwanga Center. Wilson was one of several people honored at the annual event for their contributions in the community. The archdiocesan agency promotes spiritual formation and leadership development, including advocacy for justice and racial equity concerns among the Black Catholic community.
An only child who was raised by her grandparents, Wilson grew up in the former Visitation Parish in St. Louis, where she received the sacraments and attended the school there taught by the Sisters of Loretto. As an adult, she was involved at Visitation-St. Ann Parish (the two parishes merged together in 1992), and was involved in a variety of roles, including chairperson of the parish’s annual Black History program.
After the parish closed in 2016, she became a member of St. Nicholas, north of Downtown, and has remained involved in many of the same ways, including helping with the annual St. Ann Novena in the summer.
When the pandemic put many things on hold, Wilson said she was determined to keep going in whatever way she could. At the beginning of the pandemic, she put her sewing skills to use and made more than 500 face masks, which were donated to various organizations. She also continued to help with donations for others in need through St. Vincent de Paul.
Wilson also has a regular list of people who are sick or homebound whom she checks on regularly. One person who was at the end of life asked Wilson if she could sing during a visit. “I have a lady who is 100 years old,” she said. “I’ll send cards or make phone calls or visits to check on everyone. People are lonely, or they have lost family. I don’t have a family, so God has given me the gift to do these things for others.”
Wilson is Grand Lady of the Knights of Peter Claver and Ladies’ Auxiliary Tekakwitha Court #68 at St. Nicholas. She has served in a variety of roles over the years with the organization, which is the largest and oldest Black Catholic fraternal order. In fact, she has so much background on the history of the order that she’d like to write a book someday.
Other ways in which she’s been involved include the St. Charles Lwanga Center, associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the National Black Catholic Congress, Nia Kuumba Spirituality Center, and the archdiocesan North City Deanery Interracial Committee, and the archdiocesan Lay Formation Program. She’s also served as a mentor to young people earning their GED.
She credits her Catholic faith for a special interest in studying Scripture and taking that to prayer. Wilson also has enjoyed writing prayers — not just for herself, but others. “I do a lot of Bible reading, and if it hits me right, I will write a prayer,” she said. “People will come to me and ask me to write prayers for special occasions.”
“I am so grateful for the many blessings God has bestowed upon me,” Wilson said. “I believe strongly that God demands that I use my time and talents to serve others. God so ordered it, and that is what Ophelia does.”
>> Lwanga Center honorees
Ophelia Wilson of St. Nicholas Parish in St. Louis received the Father Edward Feuerbacher Lifetime Achievement Award at the 37th annual St. Charles Lwanga Testimonial Awards Celebration, held virtually on April 25.
Torch Bearer Awards were presented to Better Family Life and Loyola Academy.
Parish honorees were Ted Heidemann (adult) and Nydia Tate (youth) for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta; Ralph and Susan Ankenbrand (adult) for Most Holy Trinity; Marilyn Rusznak (adult) and Kasey Fairchild (youth) for Our Lady of the Holy Cross; Jean Anthony (adult) and Kyle Gregory (youth) for St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock”; Marjorie Robinson (adult) for St. Augustine; Jane Wexler Brown (adult), Aurelia Garland (young adult) and Jacoby Combs (youth) for St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist; Stephen Hutchison (adult) for St. Matthew the Apostle; Carlton Prince (adult) for St. Nicholas; and Tom Lyons (adult) for Sts. Teresa and Bridget.
To learn more about the honorees, see stlreview.com/2S0KN6r.
>> St. Charles Lwanga Center
The mission of St. Charles Lwanga Center/Office of Black Catholic Ministries is the promotion of Catholic teaching, Catholic spiritual formation and leadership development, including advocacy for justice and racial equity concerns within the Black Catholic community and all who collaborate with them, in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.
For more information: See www.archstl.org/st-charles-lwanga-center
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