40 Years A Priest

(or 40 years just an ordinary guy doing his job)

Presiding at Mass at St. Peter of Alcantara Church, where this photo was taken, or at the two other churches of St. John XXXIII Parish, is only part of Father Patrick Wendt’s complex job. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Father Patrick Wendt wants to be thought of as just another guy.

Whether he’s hitting the links at his favorite golf courses or coming across parish members while taking a stroll on the bike trail behind St. Peter of Alcantara Church, Wendt hopes people see him as “a normal person doing the vocation job here.”

The job of the priest fondly known as Father Pat is to lead the sprawling Catholic community of Port Washington and Saukville as pastor of St. John XXIII Parish.

“I would say that we’re just men and have chosen a life. We shouldn’t be put up on pedestals because we’re not any holier than anyone else. We’re there to help people with their spirituality and relationship with Jesus,” Wendt said.

Wendt has been guiding those spiritual journeys for four decades. Next month, he will celebrate the 40th year of his ordination.

“I wasn’t thinking of celebrating too much, but some people from the parish wanted to do a little more,” he said. Actually, parishoners plan to do quite a bit more, and are organizing a Father Pat celebratory dinner.

Wendt has been at St. John XXIII since 2005 and oversaw the merging of St. Peter of Alcantara, Immaculate Conception and St. Mary’s parishes in 2016.

It wasn’t easy work, but Wendt had experience managing multiple parishes. From 2003 to 2005, he was administrator of three parishes in Dodge County that shared a priest and pastoral council.

“I think that was a big accomplishment,” he said of the St. John XXIII merger. “I was very blessed in that way that there was already a discussion and a lot of groundwork that had been laid before I’ve been here. I think it went as smoothly as it could go.”

The fundamental cause of the merger was the fact that there are fewer people choosing the career path that Wendt did. The priest shortage called for economy of scale — sharing religious education and pastoral staff.

“We’re all Catholic so we should be able to pool our resources,” Wendt said.
It was a priority, however, to keep all three worship sites open.

“I think it’s going to take a while for people to fully adjust. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well people support the new parish and things going on in the new parish.”

 Wendt grew up in South Milwaukee and became interested in the priesthood at an early age while attending St. John’s Catholic grade school.

“I just remember since my early days in grade school thinking about priesthood,” he said.

His entire family — he’s the second oldest of three brothers and two sisters — was supportive of his decision to enter the priesthood.

He attended St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, and after being ordained in 1979 served as associate pastor at St. Peter Parish in Beaver Dam.

In 1985, he went to St. Dominic in Sheboygan, and in 1991 to St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception in West Bend. Twelve years later, he was named to head the three Dodge County parishes.

Now that he has been at the same parish for 14 years, he sees former grade school students become adult church members.

“I’ve been blessed to see the spiritual growth of people over the years,” Wendt said.

While he enjoys the many ways people engage with the church through various events and celebrations, Wendt has a favorite.

“I always enjoy the first communion. It brings families together. It’s always good to see not just students receiving communion, but the families that bring them,” he said.

He would like to see more of them. He calls the shrinking attendance and church membership of all Christian denominations “worrisome.” St. John XXIII, Wendt said, is trying to be “the place to be” and to reach out to those not connected to a church.

“I try to encourage a welcome to people. We’re glad that you came and try not to look bad at you if you don’t come as often,” he said. “I think everybody in the parish community needs to be working on that hospitality for others.”

Wendt said special occasions such as weddings and baptisms are common places God works through people.

“People feel that presence of God and God’s grace and presence in their lives,” he said.

Wendt is pleased that St. John XXIII is involved in social issues, such as sponsoring the food pantry in the basement of St. Peter of Alcantara.

“Churches have to not just be a place that we’re here and open and people have to come,” he said. “We’re trying to reach out to people that wouldn’t necessarily walk into our doors anymore.”

Wendt himself faces a specific challenge, even after 40 years.

“I’m more of a reserved person so it’s always a challenge,” he said of public speaking. “Even now, so that’s why I work hard at it.”

A typical day for Wendt involves saying Mass in the morning at one of the parish churches or sometimes at the Harbor Campus or Ellen’s Home assisted living facilities, speaking to students in religion classes and attending numerous meetings, including those of the parish council and a number of committees.

During a busy day of three or four meetings with little time to pray or reflect, Wendt said, “sometimes you wonder where God is in all of this. Sometimes my plan maybe isn’t where the holy spirit is leading us.”

Wendt employs a specific leadership style.

“I try to be a leader who’s collaborative working with his staff, not top down. I like to get people involved in the decisions,” he said.

At 65, Wendt still manages to find the energy to meet all his obligations, and can say, “I’m still happy I’m a priest and was ordained, and I’m happy to serve God’s people.”

“So far I’m doing pretty good,” he said, crediting the holy spirit to keep him going.

Wendt may consider retirement at 68, when his current six-year term at the parish is up.

Whenever he retires, Wendt said, he looks forward to being relieved from attending meetings and serving in administration. He can get back to things he was trained to do, such as the sacraments.

But once a priest, always a priest.

“There’s always ministry to do,” he said. “You’re ordained forever, so you don’t retire from ministry, just administration and the meetings.”

As for the Catholic Church’s future, Wendt said he would like to see recruitment of priests.

“Somewhere along the line the church is going to have to look at married priests or opening up to women. I don’t think that’s going to happen soon, I won’t see it. Hopefully, the church moves in that direction,” he said.

For those considering the priesthood, he said, “I try to tell them that I think it’s a worthwhile vocation. It’s challenging but it’s also rewarding to see people grow in their faith.”

Wendt’s 40th anniversary of ordination celebration is Saturday, June 8, at the St. John XXIII School, St. Mary’s cafeteria. Registration is required. Call 284-4266.




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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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