God’s path chosen young
September 17, 2003
By KEN FURBER
Since first hearing the call while milking cows near Cactus Lake, Sask. more than 50 years ago, Melville’s new Catholic priest has been following God’s path.
And that path has led Fr. Wendelin Rolheiser from Saskatchewan to Australia and several points in between during his 42-year career.
Fr. Rolheiser recently took over from Fr. Rocky Grimard who was posted to Chicago after a four-year stint in Melville.
Rolheiser is the third oldest in a family of 16 children, and grew up on a farm near Cactus Lake, southwest of North Battleford.
Although his family was far from well-off financially, Rolheiser doesn’t remember feeling deprived or poor.
But he still remembers the time as a young boy he learned a hard lesson about pride and self-respect from his father.
“We were shopping when the shopkeeper, who was a friend of my dad’s, asked him when he was going to get paid after my dad asked him to put our purchase on his tab.
“There was a dramatic pause and my dad just said in a low, stern voice ‘you’ll get paid’.
“That was difficult for my dad who was a proud man doing his best to provide for his family.”
Rolheiser was a normal Saskatchewan boy – going to school, playing sports and working on his family’s farm.
Then just before the start of Grade 8, Rolheiser‘s future was determined in a single, clear instant.
The 13-year-old was doing farm chores when the inspiration to become a Catholic priest struck him like lightning.
“I had a serious awakening while milking cows, and thought ‘this must be’. It made me grateful to be alive”
However, the enormity of his decision didn’t escape him.
That summer, Rolheiser was bothered by doubts he’d be worthy of the priesthood.
“I had some struggles with the fear of loneliness and incompetence.”
However, Rolheiser says once he started as a novitiate OMI (Oblates of Mary Immaculate) in North Battleford, those fears soon faded away.
Rolheiser studied at North Battleford for seven years living in the Oblates’ historic mission..
And he admits to some sadness while watching the school residence, which was Saskatchewan’s original Legislature building, burn to the ground on TV this June.
But during a close-up of the fire he saw his old dorm room, which he remembered was never warm enough, go up in flames.
“I thought ‘finally that room got warm’.”
Rolheiser was ordained Dec. 21, 1961 in a storm so bad his parents couldn’t make it to the ceremony.
That day marked another milestone in the young priest’s life.
“It was the last truck ride in my life. I rode to the ordination in the back of a three-ton truck with a tarp over the back.”
After ordination, Rolheiser continued his schooling in Ottawa where he earned Bachelors of Arts and Education degrees.
What followed was a string of postings throughout Saskatchewan including a 14-year stint at St. Thomas College where he taught religion and was choir director.
While his basic church duties kept him in this province most of his career, other religious activities have pulled Rolheiser far beyond this country’s borders.
In 1978, Rolheiser started volunteering with Worldwide Marriage Encounters which provides counseling to couples, among other things.
“(We focus on) the renewal of the Catholic Church in terms of the Sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders.
“We give weekend (sessions) all over the world to couples.”
Rolheiser took a sabbatical from his regular duties in 1994 to focus on WME for a few months.
“I was able to spend almost a month in Australia before coming back for the national meeting in Montreal.”
WME executive members meet in Montreal every four months and get together somewhere else in the world every eight months.
olheiser is in Australia again this week for WME meetings and hopes to go to the Caribbean in October for the annual international session.
After two years at St. Patrick’s in Saskatoon, Rolheiser learned Fr. Grimard was planning to leave St. Henry’s in Melville and made the decision to take his place.
“I knew this place existed and anticipated coming here. This is a good situation.
“Every place I have gone has always been better and I expect the same here.”