'Bishop' of the southwest turns 90 - Catholic Courier

‘Bishop’ of the southwest turns 90

In 1941, Mike Mazza, then 10 years old, served as an altar boy for Father Paul Wohlrab, who, as a newly ordained priest, was working his first assignment at St. Michael’s Church in Rochester.

“He’s a very gentle soul,” Mazza said. “He never hollered at me when I made a mistake.”

About five years ago, Mazza started serving on the altar again, this time at St. John the Evangelist Church in Spencerport. Once again, the priest celebrating Mass was Father Wohlrab, who is the parish’s priest-in-residence.

“What goes around comes around,” Mazza said while sitting at a table in the Beahan Road Party House in Chili June 5.

On that day, Mazza was one of more than 500 people who turned out to celebrate Father Wohlrab’s 90th birthday. A few days prior to the event, Father Wohlrab noted that he has always enjoyed being a priest, and was slated to celebrate not only his 90th birthday this year, but also the 64th anniversary of his ordination on June 7.

Over the years, the priest has celebrated the sacraments, taught adults and children about the faith, and ministered to the elderly.

“There’s such a big variety of things you can do (for people) as a priest in a parish,” Father Wohlrab said during an interview at St. John’s. “That variety is a big attraction for a priest.”

Father Wohlrab, who retired as pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Rochester in 1985, also served at Holy Trinity, Webster; Holy Rosary and St. Andrew’s, Rochester; and as chaplain and educator at St. Mary’s Hospital, Rochester.

From 1965-67, he was pastor of St. Michael’s in Livonia Center and St. Mary’s in Honeoye, leaving those positions to serve at Good Counsel. Father Wohlrab has also served as spiritual director of the Legion of Mary, chaplain to the Knights of Columbus, moderator of the Catholic Speakers’ Bureau, confessor to the Carmelite order and spiritual director of the Diocesan Council of Catholic Nurses. He currently ministers at a number of area senior residences.

Father Robert Werth, parochial vicar of the Winton-Culver Catholic Community in Rochester, was also at the Party House celebration, and called Father Wohlrab the “bishop” of southwestern Monroe County.

“He retired 20 years ago, and he’s still going strong,” Father Werth said, adding that the priest has been characterized by his consistent service to the church.

Kathy Cammilleri, St. John’s parish secretary, called Father Wohlrab a friend and an “honorable person.”

“He’s very kind and giving and very generous,” she said, adding that he has a good sense of humor, as evidenced by the fact that the priest once donned a Hawaiian shirt for a parish event.

In his retirement, Father Wohlrab has apparently acquired a number of friends at St. John’s, including Barbara DiVincenzo, who manages the parish’s religious-articles shop. She noted that parishioners often leave items at the store for Father Wohlrab to bless.

“Any needs we have, he’s always helpful,” she said.

His nephew, James Wohlrab of Orchard Park, said 49 years ago Father Wohlrab celebrated his marriage to his wife, Lorraine, and had also celebrated the weddings of their five children and baptized all their grandchildren.

“Any time you ask him to do anything, it’s always ‘yes,'” James said of his uncle.

Through the decades, Father Wohlrab has formed specific opinions about what a priest should do. He still routinely visits the St. John the Evangelist School to talk to the children, and added that he has taught religious education over the years to other diocesan children.

“We can’t really call a school Catholic unless a priest is really interested in the school and will teach the children,” he said. “If they don’t see a priest and learn from them, our young boys won’t even know what a priest is or what the priesthood means.”

Raised in the German neighborhood that surrounded Holy Family Parish in Rochester early in the last century, Father Wohlrab said a School Sister of Notre Dame at the parish school inspired him to become a priest. The second-grade teacher was instructing the children about the Confiteor, the penitential prayer in the Mass that begins “I confess.”

“She said, ‘If any of you boys want to be a priest, you’ll have to learn that in Latin,'” he recalled her saying. “And I said I want to say that in Latin.”

He added that he was also intrigued by the Mass.

“I must’ve understood what the Mass is really about — the renewal of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and the priest has the power to do it,” he said.

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