A gentle, humble and soft-spoken man will celebrate 50 years of service to God and his people Sunday, June 5.
“It’s a long time, but it seems like it went fast,” said Fr. Timothy Wenzel, known as “Fr. Tim.”
Although he is retired, Fr. Tim continues to serve.
While a retired Catholic priest no longer runs a parish, he can still celebrate Mass, preside at funerals, hear confession and offer absolution, perform wedding ceremonies, baptisms, and all of the sacraments offered through the Catholic Church.
Before he retired from pastoral work in 2011, Fr. Tim knew he wanted to be close to home after serving in parishes across Minnesota. He now resides in a home he had built in Randall where he grew up, near several of his siblings.
Fr. Tim was born in Randall Oct. 16, 1940, the sixth of 12 — eight boys and four girls — born to Tony and Anna Wenzel, who were devout Catholics.
He, as many young Catholics do, served as an altar boy. He said he began to consider the priesthood after being encouraged by his parish priest at St. James Catholic Church in Randall, Fr. Harold Kost.
Fr. Tim waited until he was a senior in high school before attending minor seminary, following more encouragement from Fr. Kost.
He entered a class of nearly 300, “a good class,” he said. That large a class is unheard of today, as the number of vocations to the priesthood has dwindled over the years.
That first year at Crosier in Onamia would begin nine years of education, with studies in everything from Latin, to philosophy and theology, before Fr. Tim was ordained June 4, 1966. He was 25 years old.
His first duties as a young priest were as associate pastor at Sacred Heart in Sauk Rapids, and as a religious educator for high school students at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud.
In another four years, Fr. Tim was sent on to his own pastorship, at St. Joseph’s Church in Foxhome, in the western part of the diocese. He also helped out at Our Lady of Victory Church in Fergus Falls, a good sized parish with its own pastor.
It was in Foxhome Fr. Tim would begin a ministry that even today holds a special place in his heart — a ministry with migrant Hispanic workers and their children. In fact, parts of his home are decorated with symbols from that culture.
The Hispanic migrant workers would come to the Red River Valley to hoe sugar beets, he said. Many, if not all, were Catholic.
“I knew enough Spanish even at the time to have Mass and to communicate with people. I think over the years, I improved,” he said.
This was after Vatican II, when Mass could be said in the language people spoke, instead of the traditional Latin.
Many of the migrants came from Mexico, and if not Mexico, Texas, he said.
“Almost all of them spoke Spanish at home — people worship better in their primary language,” said Fr. Tim.
But it was not just celebrating Mass — Fr. Tim offered the children an education by organizing a school, before the state would eventually take over.
“The children of migrant workers really had no place to go during the day and sometimes they had to be at the edge of the field,” he said. “This way we had a nice school for them.”
The children learned reading, writing, arithmetic and more. It became quite a large endeavor as a bus service was needed for the children, and Fr. Tim oversaw it all.
“I really enjoyed working with the Hispanic people, who are very, very appreciative — just the fact that someone showed an interest in them,” he said. “They were away from home — strangers. I think that’s one of the characteristics of a Christian and the Church; that we should welcome the stranger and look out for them. That’s what Pope Francis emphasizes: helping people on the margins, so they don’t feel left out,” he said.
His vocational duties would later take him to St. Mary’s in Little Falls, Our Lady of Victory in Fergus Falls, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud as executive director, pastor of St. Paul’s in Sauk Centre, Sacred Heart in Staples, and St. Anthony’s in St. Cloud and Immaculate Conception in Rice and Annunciation in Mayhew Lake, before his retirement in 2011.
In between helping out with parishes in Randall, Flensburg, Little Falls and Belle Prairie, Fr. Tim has had the opportunity to travel a bit, including to Poland, the home of Pope John Paul II, Spain and Italy.
Last year, he was invited by U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan to Washington, D.C., when Pope Francis was to address Congress. While he was disappointed he did not get to meet Pope Francis in person, seeing the Pope, even from afar, and the effect he had on people, is an experience he will treasure always.
In addition to helping out at parishes, Fr. Tim continues to enjoy a reading group with fellow priests, and gardening — with his specialty being tomatoes and strawberries. His brother, Jerry, lives close by and the two often enjoy gardening together.
Fr. Tim said he has no regrets about the journey God led him on during his life. He considers it a gift to have been able to and continue to share the lives of people in their happiest and in their saddest moments.
To celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest, Fr. Tim invites parishioners to a special Mass at 11 a.m. Sunday, June 5, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Little Falls, with a reception from 2:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. at the Falls Ballroom.