2012-06-21 / Life in Leelanau

Answering The Call

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


PETER WIGTON of Cedar was ordained June 9 by Bishop Bernard Hebda at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Gaylord. Wigton is one of four Leelanau County men, including three seminarians, devoting their lives to serving the Church in northern Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Gaylord PETER WIGTON of Cedar was ordained June 9 by Bishop Bernard Hebda at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Gaylord. Wigton is one of four Leelanau County men, including three seminarians, devoting their lives to serving the Church in northern Michigan. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Gaylord Leelanau County Catholics are doing their part to jump-start the number of priests available to serve in the Diocese of Gaylord.

Peter Wigton of Cedar was ordained June 9 before friends and family — including a bus load from Holy Rosary Church — at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Gaylord.

“He is a perfect combination of being a spiritual and faithfi lled young man, while at the same time being very approachable and caring,” said Judy LaCross, who has known Wigton and his family through Holy Rosary Church. “He has a wonderful smile and sense of humor also!

“He just turned 30 last Friday, beginning his ministry at the same age as Jesus. I find that very remarkable.”

A 2001 graduate of Lake Leelanau St. Mary, Wigton was one of four men with county ties preparing for the priesthood. The diocese currently has nine seminarians and two recentlyordained priests — four are from Leelanau.

This development couldn’t have come at a better time as the number of clergy available to celebrate Mass continues to age and fewer young men are seeking the religious vocation.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostlate in Washington, D.C., in 1965 there were 58,632 priests in the United States. By 2011, this number had fallen to 39,366.

In 2003, then Bishop Patrick R. Cooney acknowledged the challenge facing the Church.

“We, the Catholics of this diocese, must now face the reality of this shortage and begin a plan for our future,” he wrote.

At that time the diocese had 81 parishes, with three of them seasonal. Of the 78, full-time parishes, there were 48 that stood by themselves; 13 clusters of two parishes each; one cluster of three parishes and one of four. There were also two monasteries of women religious.

However, there were only 57 priests were available to celebrate 176 Masses in 78 different parishes across an area covering 11,171 miles.

Of those, 13 were between age 70 and 85 and continued to work full-time.

The changing demographics have resulted in a shift of responsibilities with more lay people taking on duties previously reserved for priests. For example, the distribution of Holy Communion is now allowed by Eucharistic ministers. Deacons, once a rarity in local churches, are also becoming prevalent. Leelanau has three deacons: Harry Friend and Max Wendell at St. Philip Neri in Empire and Doug Wigton, the father of the newly-ordained priest, from Holy Rosary Church.

Deacon Wigton’s eldest son, Matthew, is also a priest serving as the administrator of St. Mary’s parish in Charlevoix.

“The faith of the people in the Leelanau Peninsula is very strong and they have worked hard to maintain a wonderful Catholic school at Lake Leelanau with a strong Catholic identity,” said Rev. Don Geyman, director of vocations for the diocese of Gaylord. “Young people coming through the school are encouraged to consider whether they are being called to the priesthood or religious life and they have had good examples to look up to.”

Geyman added that one of the keys influencing a young person’s decision to explore these vocations is happy priests.

“There have been many priests over the years — and religious sisters as well — in parishes throughout the Leelanau Peninsula who have demonstrated their joy and fulfillment as they live out their vocation,” he said. “I think that is a huge billboard for nurturing future vocations.”

The Rev. Peter Wigton has been assigned to serve as parochial vicar to the parishes of St. Mary Cathedral in Gaylord, St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Elmira and Holy Redeemer Parish in Vanderbilt.

His assignment is effective July 10, 2012.

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