HIDDEN SAINTS IN OUR MIDST
This is about a Brooklyn priest I saw and met only once and will never forget. It's from a long lost memoir I found recently and I'd like to make it known...
At the Mass, Father Wilder was having difficulty -- his voice was there but not coming easily, he coughed several times, he took long pauses between some words, and leaned his elbows on the lectern for support. Most notably was the way he shifted his weight from foot to foot. I thought something was wrong, but not having seen him before, I didn't know his speaking style or habits. Still, there was something in the realm of an emanation from him as, in his homily, he consoled Betty's daughters and grandchildren in their sorrow.
He was waiting for us in the back of the church as we were leaving. My recollection is of his white hair and kind face as he greeted us. I thanked him for the beautiful homily and when we were back in the limousine I mentioned that it must have been his thousandth homily for the grieving -- grabbing at any high number -- and that it seemed fresh and caring as if it were his first.
I think it was days later that we learned he had been undergoing chemotherapy and had just come from a treatment that morning of Aunt Betty's Mass. A few months later there was his obituary in the Tablet. He died on July 4th, three months after Betty's Mass, age forty-seven. I remembered his lost voice, which I now realized was struggling...I saw again his shifting feet... as Christ might have pushed Himself up the beam of the Cross to aid His breathing and relieve the pain. I remembered Father Wilder's homily of consolations and saw again his anxious face, so concerned for us because he was late . These are the things I know and witnessed, but there is so much more I can only imagine.
Father Jose Agustin Orellana, pastor of St. Gabriel's, celebrates a Mass for Father Wilder every July 4th.