This month, we get to know Father Michael Wensing, retired priest of the diocese. He was born and grew up in Watertown, the oldest of five children. Father Wensing was ordained June 3, 1976, and served in several parishes and a Newman Center (Vermillion). He also taught at O’Gorman and was the vocations and youth office director for the diocese.
Q. How did you get your call to the priesthood?
A. My first Communion was truly an awakening to my faith and the im-portance and power of the Eucharist. Right then and there, I wanted to find a way to share that faith, but priesthood was not the first thing that came to my mind. I ideally wanted to be a rancher when I grew up, but the sharing of faith never left me. The same year of my first Communion, my dear grandfather died and that was another jolt of awakening. It occurred to me that life really is short and its main goal should be to prepare oneself spiritually for everlasting life. In some way, the idea of priesthood then first occurred to me as an ideal way of life that I could share that faith and spiritual preparation for and in others. When O’Gorman and the diocese opened the minor seminary the year I was about to enter high school, I knew I wanted to go there, for the education first and maybe the priesthood secondarily. I entered the college seminary still unsettled (primarily because I wanted to also be married and raise a family), so I double-majored and graduated with a degree in clinical psychology and philosophy. I was invited by the chair of the psychology department at St. Mary’s to accept a fellowship to the University of Chicago. This would have been a paid highway to an advanced degree in clinical psychology. I had to pray long and hard over my direction in life. It was during that time I had the final awakening that I really wanted to be a priest, so I entered St. Paul Seminary and never looked back. The Eucharist drew me most, but the nature of our historical Catholic faith and Scripture studies fascinated me as well.
Q. Who was most influential in your life?
A. My parents were the first influencers. Dad taught me how to be an altar boy and the responses in Latin in those days, and Mom was constantly teaching us the insights of our catechism and was always positive about the leaders of our Church, no matter their human flaws. My childhood pastor, Father John Nieborski, was the only clergy I knew for many years, and he encouraged the priesthood constantly.
Q. What’s your favorite part of being a priest?
A. Now that I am retired, I enjoy substituting at various parishes to offer Mass and to preach. I am a teacher and preacher by desire and training, so I never miss an opportunity
Q. What is the most challenging thing?
A. During the years serving as a priest, I found aspects of administration burdensome. I had a natural talent for budget management but not with necessary decisions regarding parish personnel and our school teachers. Hiring and letting go were most trying.
Q. Who is your go-to saint? Why?
A. I go to St. John Paul II often in prayer. I treasure and pray the rosary he gave me personally while I was studying in Rome. I met him four different times and was privileged to concelebrate an early morning Mass with him in his private chapel. Since I had a Polish pastor who taught me my catechism in my youth, who himself was a victim of the Dachau prison camp, I thought I had a special understanding of the Holy Father’s faith and thinking.
Q. How can the people of the diocese best help you be a great priest?
A. The diocese and our people help me continue to be a good priest by inviting me to preach or teach as I substitute in parishes, and then by dinner invitations where, during table talk, we can share faith and answer questions. Jesus is my hero in this; he ate his way through the Gospels as a good and challenging guest.
Q. If you could have supper with anyone from history (besides Jesus), who would it be?
A. There are so many I would love to have supper with, but here I make an unexpected choice: Thomas Jefferson. He was a genius in languages and democratic thought and a statesman par excellence. I would like to both hear what made him tick and would like to rise to the challenge of sharing the Catholic faith in the history of our early republic, which so misunderstood the Catholic Church.