Prayer and pastoral outreach mark the priesthood of Cardinal Wuerl, said three of his former priest secretaries interviewed by the Catholic Standard.
“We started the day with Mass in the chapel,” said Father Carter Griffin, who served as Cardinal Wuerl’s priest secretary from 2006-2008, including when Cardinal Wuerl hosted Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 visit to Washington. “It showed the most important thing we did all day long was Mass. Without that, nothing else made sense.”
Father Griffin, who has served as vice-rector of the Saint John Paul II Seminary since the cardinal founded the seminary in 2011 and formerly was director of priest vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington, said Cardinal Wuerl set “an example of fidelity and generosity to the Church.”
The seminary official said that the cardinal also showed compassion to priests going through challenging times.
“I found Cardinal Wuerl to be extremely sympathetic when a man was going through a difficult time, and it’s something that many people perhaps wouldn’t know, but I was able to see what kindness and compassion he showed to priests who were going through a difficult time,” Father Griffin said.
Father Adam Park, who served as Cardinal Wuerl’s priest secretary from 2008-2012, including during the 2010 Consistory when he was made a cardinal, said Washington’s archbishop is a man dedicated to the Church.
“His priesthood is reflected in his whole life being given to serving God in the Church,” said Father Park, who now serves as the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Washington and as the chaplain for the Newman Center at George Washington University. “He loves the Church, and that’s reflected in how much he gives.”
The priest also said he witnessed how Cardinal Wuerl’s day always began with quiet prayer and then Mass, which showed “why we do the work we do. It has to begin with God…. That has to be at the heart (of the day) for every priest… The cardinal was always good at making sure prayer was at the heart of everything he did.”
Then he said the cardinal’s day would unfold with administrative duties involved in running the archdiocese, including oversight of various ministries, along with meetings, attending events and celebrating sacraments at parishes.
The cardinal’s hard work was done “in order for the Church to continue to grew in the right direction, growing in holiness,” Father Park said.
When asked what he learned from Cardinal Wuerl’s example, Father Park said, “To be a good and effective priest, you have to work. It’s staying on top of your responsibilities, and realizing too, whatever type of work a priest is called to… it’s always pastoral, in the sense we’re guiding the flock to Jesus.”
That, said Father Park, is a perspective he tries to keep now in his own priesthood as a parish priest and university chaplain.
From February 2015 to January 2016, Father Charles Cortinovis served as Cardinal Wuerl’s priest secretary, including during Pope Francis’s visit to Washington.
“First of all, the cardinal loves the Church, he’s a man of the Church,” said Father Cortinovis, who now serves as pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Cheverly. “Whatever he can do to serve the Church, he does. He gives his whole life to the Church.”
The priest added, “He cares. He always likes to say ‘yes,’ if at all possible.” He noted how the cardinal makes the effort to personally install each new pastor at a parish.
Father Cortinovis said he learned from the cardinal’s example that whatever a priest’s assignment, whether it be in a parish or some other ministry, you’re serving the whole Church, and “we need to give our very best when we serve the Church.”
He too reflected on how the cardinal’s days were built around prayer and the Mass. “He loves the Mass, and he loves being a priest,” he said.