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The ordination class of 1959 has long history, strong bond

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Friday, December 18, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk’s fellow priests from the ordination class of 1959 recall him as outstanding student who preferred reading and playing cards to athletics and demonstrated qualities even then that attested to the leader he would become.

“He was a leader in the class and very intelligent,” said Father Gerry Niklas, who noted that the archbishop has advised him on a variety of medical ethics issues over the years in his ministry as hospital chaplain. “We seminarians knew that one day he’d be a bishop. He’s very gifted.”

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Celebrating 50 years in the priesthood this year are Father Gerry Niklas, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fathers Gene Vonderhaar, Jack Wessling and Ben Bruening. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

“He was one of the most intelligent students there,” added Father Eugene Vonderhaar. “I remember him doing a lot of reading and a lot walking during his time at the seminary.”

Father Jack Wessling recalls that Archbishop Pilarczyk, “never forgets anything. He has an incredible mind. He was easily the most intelligent person in our class.”

When they later taught at the seminary together, Father Wessling said the students were also surprised by the archbishop’s keen memory. “He was a great teacher, so bright and very organized,” he said.

Father Wessling made note of Archbishop Pilarczyk’s ability to effectively run meetings and keep everyone on task if they start to stray from the issues, along with his “wonderful sense of humor. That’s something most people wouldn’t know about if they’d just met him publicly,” Father Wessling said.

“He’s been a good friend to me over the years,” Father Wessling said of the archbishop. “He let those of us who have been pastors in parishes do our jobs and didn’t micromanage. For me as a priest, that’s what made him such a wonderful archbishop.”

Among their fondest members of Archbishop Pilarczyk are those from the annual parties he has been hosting for his classmates the day after Thanksgiving for years. “We been coming together more than 35 years,” Father Niklas said. “We solve all the church’s problems, reflect on the lives of our classmates who are no longer with us and share funny stories from over the years.”

“The parties are an enjoyable time every year,” added Father Vonderhaar.

“They’re something we all look forward to,” said Father Wessling. “It’s a time for the archbishop to be totally relaxed and just enjoy being with his classmates.”

As the archbishop marks his 50th anniversary of his ordination, his classmates shared their reflections on his leadership and ministry.

“I thank him for being a wonderful bishop who was understanding of various situations rather than absolutely invoking a particular principle,” added Father Niklas. “He has given us some ‘wiggle room’ to work with, rather than excessively following the letter of the law. That showed his faith in the ability and intelligence of other people.”

“I thank God for the gift that Dan is to all of us,” Father Vonderhaar said. “I firmly believe that he has done a wonderful job in leading those of us in the priesthood and the people of the church of Cincinnati. I thank him for being the person that he is.”

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