Father Phillip Widmann has been the pastor at St. Mary, Mother of God Parish, Fort Wayne, since 2005. He will retire from active priestly ministry this summer and looks forward to spending his retirement with his Persian cats, Fiona and Bonnie Bleu, and going antiquing when he can.
“I like to go out and walk through antique malls and see what’s around, but I don’t buy much anymore. I’ve got too much stuff the way it is,” he said.
Father Widmann was ordained a priest by Bishop William McManus at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, over 40 years ago.
He said he has not had any second thoughts about his decades as a priest, and that if given the chance, he would do it all over again.
“As life has gone on, I’ve learned to accept every day as a new challenge,” Father Widmann said. “Obviously, saying Mass and making Christ present on the altar, hearing confessions and forgiving people, those are highlights.”
Father Widmann did not enter seminary until age 30. He had a “late vocation,” as he put it.
“I just think that I’ve been blessed in so many ways. I would do it all over again if I could — if I had to — but I probably would have done it earlier than I did.”
During retirement, he will continue as the director of Diocesan Museum, which he founded in 1980.
“History’s always been a joy of my life,” Father Widmann said. “I just find holding things that other important people have held — or even nonimportant people — interesting, to see what they did. They did the best that they could at the time with what they had.”
“All [of] that goes through my mind, and I just really feel blessed to be able to handle this stuff and to preserve it as best as I can.”
Father Widmann finds many aspects of the history of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend particularly interesting, especially the circumstances and people by which certain parishes came to be founded.
“It’s all interesting in its own way,” he said, “but I would say the establishment of the diocese back in 1857, and what happened right before that [is particularly interesting]. And, of course, the Civil War after that. And then the influx of all the various ethnic groups, most often [in] the South Bend and Gary area.”
“Many people belong to parishes [and] don’t even know what their history is,” he said. Most people don’t know that St. Joseph Parish out on Brooklyn [Avenue] in Fort Wayne was the original Italian parish.”
Father Widmann said that he firmly believes the famous words of George Santayana, an early 20th-century Spanish Catholic philosopher, who said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.
“I think that is so true, I’ve always lived by that principle.”
Among his favorite pieces on display at Diocesan Museum is the True Cross, a fragment of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, and some of the early artifacts from the cathedral itself.
He also finds particular interest in an old, handwritten scholar’s Bible from A.D. 1250.
“It must have taken someone a lifetime to do that,” he said.
He added that since the Second Vatican Council, the meeting of world bishops that changed several aspects of Catholic worship practices, the history of the diocese was opened to a “new chapter, a new history and everything.”
After over 40 years of ordained life, 11 parish assignments and several ministries that he led, Father Widmann is now about to open the next chapter in his own history.
“All the people that have helped me along the way, [I’m] very grateful for them,” he said. “I probably didn’t tell them so at the time, but I truly am.”
Although retiring from active ministry at St. Mary, Mother of God, it seems Father Widmann looks boldly to his future.
“I’ve learned that every day is a new adventure, and every day is something to be grateful for,” he said.
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.