Elmira priest honors saints all year - Catholic Courier

Elmira priest honors saints all year

Saints are a lively topic for Father Walter Wainwright — not only on All Saints Day, Nov. 1, but during much of the rest of the year as well.

Father Wainwright has traveled to several home towns of great figures in the Catholic Church who were canonized. Back in the Diocese of Rochester, he has maintained a longtime practice of devoting weekly bulletin columns to saints.

“I’ve always had a real interest in the lives of the saints because I think of them as being real treasures of the church. We can learn from their lives, as well as their devotional aspects,” said Father Wainwright, pastor of Elmira’s St. Anthony/St. Patrick/Ss. Peter and Paul cluster. “It helps you to get into the life of the church and the world, and the lives of people and their journey of faith at different times.”

His bulletin texts are often aligned with saints’ feast days. For instance, his July 30, 2006, bulletin highlighted St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus order, whose feast day is July 31; St. Alphonsus Marie Ligouri (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorist order, whose feast is observed Aug. 1; and St. John Vianney (1786-1859), the patron saint of parish priests, whose feast is Aug. 4. Father Wainwright said he also bases many daily-Mass homilies on whichever saints’ feast days are being celebrated.

The priest’s writings offer intriguing pieces of information, noting, for example, that St. Ignatius grew in his faith while recovering from a cannonball mishap that shattered his leg; St. Alphonsus was so intellectually gifted that he earned doctorate degrees in civil and canon law by age 16; and St. John Vianney was a very marginal student but, so great were his pastoral skills, he spent more than 10 hours a day hearing confessions in a remote part of France where he was assigned.

While pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Painted Post in the 1980s, Father Wainwright oversaw the installation of more than 20 stained-glass windows depicting saints. Among those honored are St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941), who ministered to fellow prisoners in World War II concentration camps; St. Paul Miki (1562-97), who helped lead a Christian movement in Nagasaki, Japan, costing him his life; and St. Charles Lwanga (1860-86), who was martyred for the same reasons in Uganda.

For the window project Father Wainwright consulted the guru of saints, diocesan historian and archivist Father Robert McNamara.

“He’s an expert,” Father Wainwright said of the Corning native, who now resides at McAuley Residence in Rochester and will celebrate his 96th birthday Nov. 3. Father McNamara has popularized a “Saints Alive” series in parish-bulletin writings of his own. These vignettes may be viewed online by visiting www.stthomasirondequoit.com/SaintsAlive.

Father Wainwright focuses on saints from all parts of the world, both in recent and distant history. Many are not as familiar to Catholics as, perhaps, the apostles. He said his goal is to bring out “the universality of church with saints of different times and places. … I thought it would be good to do some (columns) on some of the saints that are not as well-known. Their lives are still examples as well.”

Another aspect of this information-sharing, he said, is “being able to discern some of the legends and some of the tales about the saints — separating what is legend and what is fact.”

Among Father Wainwright’s personal-favorite saints are St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), renowned as a brilliant theologian despite not having any formal education; St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547), the founder of Western monasticism and the Benedictine order; St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the patron saint of animals and the environment, whose feast day was just celebrated Oct. 4; and St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955), a Philadelphia native who left her wealthy upbringing behind and founded numerous mission schools across the United States.

Father Wainwright also singled out St. John Fisher (1469-1535), patron saint of the Rochester Diocese, and St. Thomas More (1478-1535). Both were canonized in 1935, 400 years after they were martyred in England for their steadfast faith during King Henry VIII’s persecution of the church.

The Elmira pastor acknowledged that he has “a lot of favorites” when it comes to saints — which presents a bit of a dilemma on All Saints Day.

“I have a hard time in making sure I don’t zero in on any one,” he said with a laugh.

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