Mission priests sometimes have many responsibilities. Here Fr. Aaron Wessman celebrates Mass, music and all, in a house serving as the church in Windsor, North Carolina. COURTESY OF GLENMARY HOME MISSIONERS
Glenmary priest ‘fondly’ recalls years of formation in western Kentucky
BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Missionary life “is an adventure,” according to Fr. Aaron Wessman, GHM, who spent several years of his Glenmary formation within the Diocese of Owensboro, where he was able to engage with rural communities and participate in Hispanic/Latino ministry for the first time ever.
“I felt such a profound welcome from the people of the diocese,” said Fr. Wessman, who today serves as the vicar general and first vice president for the Glenmary Home Missioners. “It was a great formative experience.”
He recently spoke with The Western Kentucky Catholic about the diocese’s impact on his path to becoming a Glenmary priest.
Fr. Wessman said he spent his pre-novitiate year in Hartford and Beaver Dam from 2005-2006, where he was involved in ministry in Ohio County and with Holy Redeemer Parish in Beaver Dam. He also took classes at Brescia University.
At the time, Glenmary had a House of Formation in Hartford, where Fr. Wessman lived with several other men discerning their vocations: “We also were constantly doing ministry, meeting the people in the community,” he said.
Sometimes they would be visited by Bishop John J. McRaith, who would join them for dinner at the house.
“I remember that fondly,” said Fr. Wessman.
One fellow discerner was the future Deacon Chris Gutiérrez, who was at the time considering a Glenmary vocation. (Deacon Gutiérrez ultimately determined that he was called to the married life; Fr. Wessman served as the best man at his wedding.)
“That was through (Deacon Gutiérrez) and being in this diocese that I came to do Hispanic ministry for the first time in my life,” said Fr. Wessman. The two remain good friends to this day.
The following year, Fr. Wessman spent his novitiate spiritual year while residing at Maple Mount, the home of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
“This consisted of a lot of prayer, quiet, and appropriating and learning about the Glenmary charism through classes and study,” he said.
There, he learned just how impactful the Ursuline Sisters had been on the Owensboro diocese, and on the rural community overall. During that time he played music and helped with youth ministry at St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Sorgho, providing him another opportunity to participate in parish ministry.
Even after his time concluded in the diocese, Fr. Wessman continued to encounter the diocese’s seminarians. This included the future Fr. Julio Barrera, who today is the pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish in Beaver Dam and Holy Trinity Parish in Morgantown – which have blossomed into active Hispanic/Latino ministry parishes.
He was ordained in 2012 by Bishop William F. Medley. (Bishop McRaith had retired in 2009.)
“I recall Bishop Medley gave this great homily full of historical insights on the history of the diocese and Glenmary, and how those two were intermingled,” said Fr. Wessman. “The diocese grew up around the same time that Glenmary did. That helped prepare me to do Glenmary’s ministry.”
Even Fr. Wessman’s first encounter with Glenmary has a distant connection to western Kentucky. He met a Glenmary priest, Fr. Gerald (Jerry) Dorn, GHM, while a student at St. John’s University in Minnesota – launching the young man onto the process of discernment.
Fr. Dorn, as a matter of fact, had served at Holy Redeemer from 1968-1972 while still a religious brother, known there by his birth name as Br. Jim Dorn.
Fr. Wessman said he always wanted to have a missionary charism as part of his vocation.
“In my heart there was a sense of going to a place where Catholicism is not very established,” he said, adding that “the Church is missionary by her very nature. She’s always been pushing out to places where she’s never been before.”
He is grateful for his time in western Kentucky, crediting it for who he has become as a Glenmary priest.
“It was a really wonderful opportunity,” he said.
Originally printed in the February 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.