September 14, 2010 // Local

Bishops, fellow priests, family pay tribute to Msgr. James Wolf

Priests from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend join Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades and Bishop-emeritus John M. D’Arcy during the Eucharistic Prayer at the Mass of Christian Burial of Msgr. James Wolf at Sacred Heart Church, Warsaw, on Sept. 7. Msgr. Wolf, who was pastor of Sacred Heart Church, died Aug. 31.

By Tim Johnson and Kay Cozad

WARSAW — Family, friends, 61 priests and two bishops paid tribute to Msgr. James Wolf at Sacred Heart Church in Warsaw on Sept. 7 as Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was the celebrant of the Mass of Christian Burial. The congregation swelled into the narthex of Sacred Heart Church to remember a beloved pastor and former co-vicar and co-chancellor of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and co-rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Bishop-emeritus John M. D’Arcy was the homilist. He recalled that the death of a priest, still active as a pastor of a parish, “brings special sorrow to the people of that parish. Something beautiful seems to have been taken here.”

Bishop D’Arcy related, “Is not this also what we mourn — the one who was the instrument of Christ in bringing God close to us, is not here in his human form today. And so all of us priests come together to gather around our bishop and be close to you — the people of Sacred Heart Parish — Msgr. Jim Wolf’s pastoral family and the family of his birth. And we don’t just come and talk with you, we offer the gift God has given us. We offer the Eucharist in his place for you and for him, and we come as brothers, which we are through the hands that were laid on us at Ordination, brothers forever in the work of Christ in communion with each other and with our bishop and never without our bishop — but always for you — a gift.” 

Bishop D’Arcy added, “In these last years, you have learned the beauty of a good, holy, humble priest. And in these recent weeks, you have understood more clearly in this great loss, how important the priest is for you. You have seen the Catholic priest in all his beauty and have suffered when he was taken from you. 

“Now, you must join your bishop and priests and ask God to send us more men of good quality to replace monsignor and for your children and their children,” he said.

“Safe home, dear Jim, safe home,” Bishop D’Arcy concluded. “May the angels lead you into paradise. May the martyrs receive you at your coming.”

Bishop Rhoades, in a statement at the end of Mass, extended his sympathy to Msgr. Wolf’s family, and noted, “Msgr. Wolf was a beloved pastor here at Sacred Heart Parish and a beloved priest at all his assignments since his ordination 41 years ago.”

He continued, “Personally, I feel blessed to have gotten to know Msgr. Wolf since I came to Fort Wayne-South Bend. I recall his kindness and hospitality on several occasions these past months, including at a wonderful dinner monsignor hosted prior to Confirmation a few months ago.

“While praying for Msgr. Wolf these past few days, the following words of Jesus to His disciples kept coming to my mind: ‘Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart,’” Bishop Rhoades said. “That is what touched me the most about Msgr. Wolf — his gentleness and humility, his love for his family and his parishioners, his acceptance of the cross of illness, and his steadfast faith as he prepared to meet the Lord Jesus.”

Bishop Rhoades said, “When we look at the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we contemplate our Lord’s love and we can remember his words: ‘Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.’ Msgr. Wolf truly learned from Jesus. His gentle and humble heart, his priestly heart, reflected the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We give thanks today for the gift of Msgr. Wolf’s life and priestly ministry. We also pray for him and we commend him to the Lord.

“A few nights before he died, I spoke to monsignor on the telephone — he was unable to respond verbally, but I think he heard what I said to him,” Bishop Rhoades said. “I thanked him for his priestly service and I assured him of our prayers and loving support. May this faithful and devoted priest receive the reward of his labors and rejoice forever in the company of the saints!”

Msgr. Bill Schooler, the pastor of St. Pius X in Granger and friend of Msgr. Wolf, told Today’s Catholic, “He was a theologian at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati when I was in the college Seminary of St. Gregory across town. I always looked up to him and then enjoyed becoming a friend after my ordination. He was gentle, thoughtful and extremely kind.

“We went on many skiing trips together and loved to tease each other. I was more ‘adventuresome’ than he was in choosing certain more difficult runs. He quickly learned not to trust my advice about choosing the appropriate slope,” Msgr. Schooler said. “He loved to tell people that my words could never be trusted. He continued to ski, even after being diagnosed with cancer. Two years ago, he had a great time with us in Vail, Colo., telling everyone never to listen to me and serving as a great sous chef in the kitchen for food preparation. I will miss him!”

Msgr. Robert Schulte, the vicar general for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and rector of the cathedral, said of Msgr. Wolf: “I remember Msgr. Wolf as a fun loving and joyful person, who was very serious about his life as a priest and a man of faith. His sense of humor added to many conversations, along with his knowledge of God and the Church. An avid sports fan, he could remember names of sports figures back many years. His renovation of Sacred Heart Church was remarkable, and he was appropriately proud of it. He was not an easy rector to follow at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and many still hold him in their hearts. People and priests of our diocese will miss him.”

Mari Raatz, the administrative assistance in the vicar general’s office, said, “I worked with Msgr. Wolf when he was co-vicar general/chancellor with Msgr. Lester. Msgr. Wolf was a wonderful person. He was kind, gentle, fun and very pastoral. He was very dedicated and loved being a priest. When he was assigned pastor of Sacred Heart, Warsaw, we had a great friendship that continued on through the years that I will cherish always.”

Father Paul Beuter, retired priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend was brother priest and friend to Msgr. Wolf. Both St. Jude Elementary School alumni, the two priests grew closer during the past nine years as they shared living quarters at the Sacred Heart rectory. “We got close during my stay at Sacred Heart,” said Father Beuter, who tells stories of their adventures during high school football and basketball games. 

Father Beuter assisted at the parish when Msgr. Wolf was enjoying vacation time as well as recently during Msgr. Wolf’s illness. Of the monsignor he said, “He loved his people and the children of the parish. He was always open to whatever their needs were … always available to serve his people. There was nothing pretentious about him. He was a solid guy. A loving, generous man.” At the Mass of Christian Burial, Father Beuter proclaimed the Gospel.

Family members shared fond memories of the monsignor who was their brother.

Carolyn Grogg, Msgr. Wolf’s older sister, the second of his five siblings, remembers a happy-go-lucky boy who was always serving at church. She was not surprised that as a young college graduate he chose to enter the seminary. “I wasn’t surprised he chose the priesthood,” she says, adding. “He was always very active doing things for the Church. Leadership was his strength.” 

As a priest she says, “He was special. When he came to California to visit all the folks there, they loved him. He was loved where ever he went.” 

Msgr. Wolf was instrumental in bringing the sacraments to his family in his home town and across the country, performing marriage ceremonies for nieces and nephews, and Baptisms for the new babies. “Usually the kids would call him to come,” said Grogg. 

One of her daughters, Grogg recalled, was diagnosed with cancer during the time Msgr. Wolf faced the illness. She was told she would be unable to have children due to the effects of the chemotherapy. However, when she did conceive Msgr. Wolf contacted her with congratulations and a request that he might baptize the infant. “He called her to say he wanted to baptize that miracle baby,” said Grogg. Mgr. Wolf was able to perform that recent Baptism in California before he fell ill. 

Msgr. Wolf enjoyed a wealth of family activities and the practical joking that went on between family members. Mary Barnes, Msgr. Wolf’s youngest sister chuckled as she recounted during his jubilee, while he ministered at the cathedral in Fort Wayne, the family decorated the cathedral yard with spinners and tacky yard decorations. “He loved it!” said Barnes. 

Msgr. Wolf was a generous man as well, his sister said. Barnes recalled with misty eyes as she prepared for Marriage after both her parents had died, that he purchased her wedding gown for her.  

Both sisters will hold dear the memory of their brother slipping away to nap during holiday family gatherings, his love of black cherry ice cream, attending football games and skiing. They chuckled when they recalled his “atrocious driving.” But they agreed he loved nothing more than his life as a priest. “He was a fantastic big brother,” said Barnes, adding, “He was a good man — holy, kind, generous, extremely pastoral and loved the priesthood. He was a good and faithful servant!”

In the obituary for Msgr. James Wolf in the Sept. 12 issue of Today’s Catholic, the story should have stated he was appointed by the Holy See as Prelate of Honor, rather than Chaplain for His Holiness.

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