He has served in a number of parishes during his 44-year priesthood. However, people are just as likely to recognize Father Winfried Kellner from his extensive chaplaincy ministry at Rochester-area hospitals.
"It’s very energizing and rewarding," remarked Father Kellner, who is retiring as part-time chaplain for Unity Health System as well as sacramental minister for Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece.
Father Kellner, 70, is a native of Friedburg, Bavaria. The priest honors his heritage by celebrating Mass in German for special events at Rochester-area churches.
Father Kellner noted that during his childhood, he and his siblings were moved around frequently by his father to lessen the possibility that the children would be forced into joining the Nazi Party’s Hitler Youth. The family moved to the United States when Father Kellner was 12 years old.
"It was for safety; he was afraid of the Russians," said Father Kellner, referring to the Russian occupation of Germany after the Nazis had fallen.
Father Kellner’s home parish is St. Columba in Caledonia. He attended St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries and was ordained June 1, 1963.
He served as assistant pastor at St. Alphonsus, Auburn (1963-68); St. Cecilia, Irondequoit (1968-70); Church of the Assumption, Fairport (1970-73); and St. Boniface, Rochester (1978). He became administrator at St. Boniface in 1978 and its pastor in 1979, serving in that role until 1983.
Father Kellner spent the following 13 years as chaplain at Monroe Community Hospital. He went on to become administrator at Our Lady of Victory Parish, Rochester, from 1996 to 2001. For the past six years he has served as chaplain of Unity Health, covering both Unity Hospital in Greece as well as its Genesee Street campus in Rochester — the former St. Mary’s Hospital.
His kind and conversational demeanor fits well for his hospital ministry: Father Kellner said he strives to get to know people rather than simply bless and anoint them. He added that it’s crucial to be a symbol of God’s presence even when — as if often the case — patients haven’t been connected with the church in many years.
"If we die, (the chaplain) will still be part of a family that sees us off. It’s reassuring that there’s something out there," Father Kellner said.
The priest has not yet finalized plans for his retirement, but is eager to have more free time available.
"I’m looking forward to more catching up with people I haven’t been able to get to," Father Kellner said, noting that his combined parish and hospital ministries "don’t leave too much time left over."