Father Phillip Widmann, pastor at St. Mary Mother of God Church, recently passed a 40-year milestone in his priestly life. Ordained by Bishop William McManus on Jan. 15, 1977, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne, Father Widmann has spent almost his entire career in the Fort Wayne area.
As a youngster he attended St. Peter Church and school, and later, Central Catholic High School. The idea of a vocation was “always there,” he noted, simply because of his Catholic education. But he initially ignored a priestly summons. After graduation he went to work at International Harvester, where he stayed for 13 years. Finally, at the age of 30, he answered God’s call and began seminary studies at St. Pius X Seminary in Covington, Ky. He completed his studies at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., the first diocesan seminarian to do so at that time, he believes, since the legendary Father Julian Benoit in the early 1800s.
The newly ordained priest’s first assignment was at Holy Family Parish in South Bend. After a short stay he was transferred back to Fort Wayne, where he found a home at St. Vincent de Paul Parish on the city’s north side. He also had assignments through the years at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, Avilla; St. Joseph Parish, Roanoke; St. Jude, Fort Wayne; St. Patrick, Fort Wayne; Sacred Heart, Fort Wayne; and St. Catherine Nix Settlement. He pastored the former St. Andrew Parish in Fort Wayne, as well as St. Peter, his home parish. Finally, in 2005, after the death of Father Tom O’Connor, pastor of St. Mary, Mother of God Parish, then-Bishop John M. D’Arcy asked Father Widmann to take over additional responsibilities there, where he has spent the last 12 years. In addition to pastoral duties, he oversees its famous soup kitchen and a homeless shelter called Ave Maria House, to name two of the diverse parish’s ministries.
One of the busy priest’s additional job titles is that of director of the Cathedral Museum, located in the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center in downtown Fort Wayne. Years ago, in the aftermath of Vatican II, a number of items had been collected, for which he sought permission to assemble in a location where they might be viewed by the public. The museum contains the relics of many saints, diocesan bishops’ miters and crosiers, a collection of nun dolls portraying all the orders assigned to parishes in the diocese over the years and many other church-related items. “I love history,” said Father Widmann, so the director’s position was a natural fit for him.
He and other priest jubilarians were recognized and celebrated at a special jubilee Mass during the diocesan priests’ recent annual retreat.
“Forty years have gone so fast… 40 of the happiest years of my life,” he said, looking back. He especially enjoyed being pastor at St. Peter, his home church, along with St. Mary, Mother of God. Due to some recent health challenges, he has had to limit himself to pastoring St. Mary parishioners. Still, he said, “It’s been a joy.”
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