Father Walter Wainwright wants people to know that although he’ll retire from his pastorate at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Elmira next month, he will still remain a priest for as long as he lives.
"A few people have asked, ‘Why aren’t you going to be a priest anymore?’" Father Wainwright said, noting that he hastens to reassure them he is not retiring from the priesthood itself, but rather from a specific aspect of its work.
"What I’m retiring from is the actual administration, but I will always be a priest and always be available to perform the sacraments — weddings, baptisms, funerals — as well as being available to parishes," he said.
Father Wainwright has been a priest since June 5, 1965, when he was ordained by Bishop James E. Kearney at Sacred Heart Cathedral. An Elmira native, Father Wainwright said he first entertained the idea of becoming a priest while he was a child attending St. Mary Parish and Grammar School in his hometown. That seed began to sprout into a real calling while he was at Notre Dame High School in Elmira, where he was heavily influenced by the school’s chaplain, Father John Hogan.
He was in the high school’s second graduating class of about 68 students, and only about 23 of those students were boys, Father Wainwright said.
"Four of the boys became priests. I think certainly a lot of that is due to the influence and the example Father Hogan set," he said.
After graduating from Notre Dame Father Wainwright went on to study at St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester. After his ordination he was assigned to St. Thomas the Apostle in Irondequoit, where he served as assistant pastor for six years. In 1971 he became associate pastor at St. Joseph in Penfield, and in 1972 he became the parish’s copastor.
After four years as copastor he left Penfield and took on his first sole pastorate at St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Lucy in Leicester and Retsof. Father Wainwright remained there until 1981, when he became pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Painted Post. Nine years later he left Painted Post to become pastor at St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua, where he served from 1990-2000.
In 2000 Father Wainwright became pastor of St. Anthony and St. Patrick parishes in Elmira, which were clustered at the time. In 2006 the cluster expanded to include Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, also in Elmira. The parishes merged and formed one new parish, Blessed Sacrament, in 2007, and in 2008 St. Anthony Church was sold.
Father Wainwright has met a lot of people and ministered in many places during his 44 years as a priest. In each place it was always the people he met who really made his experience so enjoyable, he said.
"There’s always something special that you remember about each place," he said. "In every place you meet people with different stories in their lives and different situations, and it’s always something new. It wasn’t always a happy occurrence, but I’ve been with families when things have struck their lives, whether it’s something happy or something tragic."
It’s been a blessing to be able to walk through these events with families and share in their joys and sorrows, he added.
After retiring this June Father Wainwright plans to live in his Elmira home and assist at parishes in the Elmira area. He’s also planning to do some writing, starting with a booklet of generic funeral services that should be helpful to local funeral directors, he said.
Blessed Sacrament Parish is planning to celebrate Father Wainwright’s retirement with a picnic June 29. Anyone interesting in attending the picnic should contact the parish office at 607-733-0300 to RSVP.