Father Tim Wenzel, a well-known and much-loved Catholic priest who has served pastorates throughout north central Minnesota for 49 years, will be U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan's guest when Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24.
"Father Tim's long service and dedication to the Hispanic community here in Minnesota will make his visit to Washington an especially significant occasion since Pope Francis of Argentina is the first Pontiff from the Americas," Nolan said in making the announcement Tuesday. "Father Tim has dedicated his life to the people of rural Minnesota - and much like the ideals and examples that define the Papacy of Pope Francis, he has always demonstrated a special compassion and respect for the dignity of the poor, the underprivileged, the unemployed and all who can so easily fall through the cracks in our society."
Nolan noted that Wenzel, who most everyone refers to as "Father Tim," served as Director of Hispanic Ministry for Migrant Workers from 1970 to 1985 in Minnesota's Red River Valley. While there, he became deeply involved in helping migrant children - establishing school programs that enabled them to learn, eat and play while their parents worked in the fields. Later on, he traveled on mission trips to Guatemala in Central America, assisting communities with economic development and education projects.
Wenzel said he expects the Pope to use his address to stress the importance of strengthening families, protecting the environment and assisting those in need.
"I am honored to have this opportunity to hear our Holy Father when he speaks to Members of Congress. Ever since he was elected as our Pope, I have admired him - especially for his emphasis on reaching out to the poor, the hungry, the handicapped, the stranger and those on the margins of society," he said.
"He is asking us to practice the compassion and mercy of Christ," Wenzel continued. "His recent encyclical on the environment calls us to see God's creation as a gift, and not to abuse it. His message is consistent and integrated: all life must be respected. Since he is in the United States to attend the World Meeting of Families, it is likely he will have a message on the importance of the family. I believe it will be good for our lawmakers to hear his message, that they will be encouraged to work toward a society which reflects the values which our Holy Father has been teaching us by his word and example."
Wenzel is the son of the late Anthony and Anna Wenzel of rural Little Falls. He attended rural schools in Morrison County - and attended Little Falls High School. He graduated from Crosier Seminary in Onamia and St. John's Seminary in Collegeville. Ordained to the priesthood in 1966, he has served pastorates at churches in Sauk Rapids, Foxhome, Little Falls, Fergus Falls, Sauk Centre, Staples, St. Cloud, Rice and Mayhew Lake. He taught religion at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud from 1966 to 1971 and served as Executive Director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of St. Cloud from 1987 to 1994. Father Tim retired from full-time parish work in 2011, but still performs pastoral duties at churches on request throughout the Diocese of St. Cloud.