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Brother celebrates 30 years in Catholic ministry

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
April 29, 2011 at midnight
Updated April 28, 2011 at 11:29 p.m.

Taking a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, Brother Patrick has dedicated his life to religious education. Earning his degree from the University of Kansas, Brother Patrick has his master's degree in music therapy and occasionally plays piano at the 11:30 a.m. Sunday Mass.

Wearing a straw Stetson hat and flowing floor-length white habit, Brother Patrick Wildgen strolled across the street to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Victoria and took a seat in a crimson pew.

His eyes gazing forward - through Sorrows' grand stucco pillars and countless empty aisles - Wildgen reflected on his impending 30-year anniversary with the Trinitarian Brothers, and the past three decades leading up to Sunday's celebration.

"It's substantial for me because of what I've been able to do through God," the 58-year-old Wildgen said. "This ceremony is not about me. It's about how great God is, giving me the strength to continue in ministry," all these years.

Growing up Catholic in central Kansas, Wildgen, the youngest of four brothers, admits he's always been naturally religious. So, while still enrolled at the University of Kansas earning a degree in music therapy, Wildgen considered entering religious life permanently.

"I've always been drawn to my own religion, and when my father died, that became the impetus. Religion became much more important then," he said. "I wanted to enter religious life while I was still in college, but I wanted to get my degree first."

Once graduated, Wildgen decided to pursue a life of ministry, but knew he wanted a religious life apart from the priesthood.

"I never wanted to be a priest. I never wanted that particular aspect of ministry," he said.

Unlike the religious priests Wildgen works alongside, brothers are not ordained. They are set apart from performing certain sacraments, such as matrimony, anointing of the sick, communion and reconciliation.

Instead, Wildgen, who earned a masters of theology in 2006, serves under the Baltimore-based Order of the Most Holy Trinity in adult education at Sorrows, organizing Catholic retreats and leading workshops and religious talks.

"This parish has changed me in a positive way. The people in this parish love to express their faith and do so openly, and that's always made an impression on me," Wildgen said. "It's helped me become more confident in myself and what I can do. I've really learned a lot."

Entering the Trinitarian Brotherhood in 1975, Wildgen officially made his permanent profession of solemn vows - poverty, chastity and obedience - in 1981.

On Sunday, May 31, he'll renew those same vows before God and Sorrows' congregation at the 11:30 a.m. Mass.

"It's similar to a couple renewing their 50th wedding anniversary," Wildgen said. "It's a ceremonial renewal of lifelong commitment."

Through the years, Wildgen has lived in many cities and worked in various areas of ministry, both educational and administrative. While serving at a high school in Hyattsville, Md., in the late 1990s, he was afforded the opportunity to sing with the Washington Choral Arts Society, a group that would eventually earn him a Grammy Award win.

"The most I got out of it was a free CD," Wildgen said humbly, laughing. "We won Best Classical Work, or Best Symphonic Work. I can't quite remember."

But when he moved to Victoria in December 2007, Wildgen said he finally found his ministerial niche, conducting the RCIA program, assisting with the Lectors and Eucharistic Ministers ministries, teaching Bible study and serving as spiritual director for the Fishermen for Christ men's prayer group.

"This has been one of the best experiences in my ministry," Wildgen said, describing his service at Sorrows for the past 3 ½ years. "It has been the most enjoyable and fulfilling for me in terms of me serving as a brother."

Looking back on the past 30 years, Wildgen said he doesn't regret his decision to enter religious life, even though it hasn't always been an easy trek.

"I've come to realize more and more that religious life is not a bed of roses. Everyone enters thinking it's so glamorous and wonderful. There are some great things about it, but you have to be able to grow through the challenges God gives you," Wildgen said. "I've definitely become a more patient person and a more trusting person in God."

On Sunday, when Wildgen renews his vows, he hopes to spend the next 30 years of ministry with Sorrows' congregation, but said he will remain open to God's calling.

"I want to be here absolutely, but how long that will be? I can't say. I have to be open to what God says. And I try not to dictate to the divine," Wildgen said.

Bishop David Fellhauer, of the Victoria Diocese, and the Rev. Father Edward Owens, minister provincial of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, will preside over the anniversary celebration.



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