Retired priest sees his ministry as bringing his best friend, Jesus, to people
Oct 9, 2020
When he officially retired in the summer of 2019, Msgr. Michael Wilson continued doing what he has done since his ordination 45 years ago – serving as a priest.
The veteran priest began assisting with Masses at about a dozen parishes, mostly in the Southern Maryland region with its people and its scenery that he had grown to love while serving as pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Solomons from 2011 until his retirement.
“That’s one of the reasons I retired, so I could help out there,” he said.
In his first few months of retirement, he ventured forth on the Southern Maryland roadways, not unlike the circuit riding Jesuit priests who brought the sacraments to the pioneer Catholics in that region on horseback during colonial times, but he was driving in his car.
“I went to places I’d never been to,” he said.
That was fine with him, because he’s always loved traveling, having grown up in an Army family, the son of the late Col. Norton Wilson and Marion Wilson.
Msgr. Wilson, who is now 72, said he jokingly complained that traffic seemed too slow for him in Southern Maryland, but then when he drove again closer to Washington, D.C., he complained that traffic was too fast there.
“You just can’t keep me happy,” he joked.
He was impressed to learn about how many “of the older guys” – his fellow retired priests – were also “helping out all over the place.”
The longtime parish priest said he grew to appreciate that in his retirement, he now has “the freedom to focus on God and not worry about administering a parish. You can sit down to pray and think about what you’re praying about and not about fixing the roof.”
His first year of retirement also included a month-long mission in the Central American country of Belize, helping celebrate Masses for a parish there that serves about 35 villages. His former parish, Our Lady Star of the Sea, has supported that parish in recent years, and a team of parishioners from Solomons also came down there to help for a week.
Earlier this year, he joined a priest friend from Baltimore on a 12-day Caribbean cruise, but they and their fellow passengers had to remain on the ship as the coronavirus pandemic began spreading around the world.
Returning home to the Washington area, he had to remain in quarantine for two weeks, then he moved into the archdiocese’s new St. John XXIII Residence for retired priests in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Msgr. Wilson said he had originally envisioned that once he began living there, he’d also have the chance to visit museums, see friends and do some traveling, but the coronavirus shutdown kept him at his new home for the months of April and May.
“It was a great spiritual time, I did a lot of reading,” he said, adding that helped him deepen his knowledge of and relationship with God.
He focused on reading St. John’s Gospel and related commentaries, and also the book Into His Likeness: Be Transformed as a Disciple of Christ by Edward Siri.
“I thought it was the most practical, insightful, challenging spiritual book I’d read in a gazillion years,” he said.
After public Masses began resuming in the area after Memorial Day with safety precautions, Msgr. Wilson has been helping with Masses at St. Mary of the Mills Parish in Laurel, where he served as a pastor from 2002-2011, and also at St. John the Baptist Parish in Silver Spring.
At St. Mary of the Mills, he is assisting the pastor, Father Larry Young, who had served with him there as a young priest when he was the pastor.
Msgr. Wilson said he joked with his former parishioners there that “even though you have those masks on, I warn you if you rob the bank, I’ll recognize you.”
“They’ve been very warm and welcoming,” he said.
The Virginia native moved to the Washington area with his family as an eighth grader, and they began attending St. Elizabeth Parish in Rockville, Maryland, which he considers his home parish. After studying for the priesthood at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, he was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1975.
Then-Father Wilson served as a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie and later at Nativity Parish and at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington.
In addition to serving as pastor at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish and at St. Mary of the Mills, he also served as pastor at St. Raphael Parish in Rockville from 1992 to 2002 and at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Lexington Park from 1987-1992. From 1982-84, he served as archdiocesan director of vocations for men. He was named a monsignor by Pope, now Saint, John Paul II in 2005.
Asked about special memories he has at the parishes where he served as a pastor, Msgr. Wilson praised Immaculate Heart of Mary as “a family parish where everyone was involved. We painted the church on our own,” he said.
Serving as pastor at St. Raphael “was like coming home” for the priest who had spent his formative years at nearby St. Elizabeth Parish.” He praised the St. Raphael parishioners as “faith-filled, hard-working, happy people.”
St. Mary of the Mills, he said, was a busy and fun place, with its parish elementary school and St. Vincent Pallotti High School right across the street.
Regarding Our Lady Star of the Sea, Msgr. Wilson asked, “What’s not to like?” He noted the beautiful setting on a spot overlooking where the Chesapeake Bay meets the mouth of the Patuxent River.
The priest also joked that being “an Army brat,” he enjoyed serving parishioners from the Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
“They have the same attitudes, values, and lifestyles I had growing up in the military,” he said.
The priest said he grew to have great respect for the deep Catholic roots in Southern Maryland, where the first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies was celebrated by Jesuit Father Andrew White for colonists who landed on St. Clement’s Island in 1634.
“The people are so faithful to the Church… They’ve been (that way) forever. They love the Lord, and they love the Church,” he said.
In recent months, the retired priest has also been able to help preside at military burials at Arlington National Cemetery.
“That’s a blessing, because I get to serve the people who served us,” he said.
Msgr. Wilson said he enjoys living at the St. John XXIII Residence.
“The guys are wonderful here,” he said. “…Six of us live together and swap stories. I enjoy that.”
The 2020 Retired Priests Collection for the Archdiocese of Washington will be taken up at parishes on the weekend of Nov. 7-8, and Msgr. Wilson said that he has always supported that collection, long before he himself retired.
“I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the priests that helped me,” he said, noting the priests who inspired him as he grew up, guided him through the seminary and helped form him as a priest. “…I’m deeply indebted to those guys who showed me examples of what I wanted to be as a priest.”
In his retirement, Msgr. Wilson said he feels a deep sense of gratitude to God for calling him as a priest.
“Every day I say to God, ‘thank you, I don’t know why you asked me to be a priest,’” he said, adding, “I love doing what I do. I love having Him (Jesus) as my best friend. I love celebrating Mass.”
In an earlier interview, he summarized his priestly ministry as bringing “my best friend to people and people to my best friend.”
As it has for all his years as a priest, prayer remains central to his life.
“I love the opportunity to be quiet and be with Him,” Msgr. Wilson said.
Reflecting on his life as a priest, he said, “I’m just blessed.”
Retired Priests Collection
Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington are invited to express their gratitude to the priests who have provided them and their families with the sacraments at all stages of their lives, by donating to the Retired Priests Collection taken up at parishes on the weekend of Nov. 7-8, 2020. People can also donate to the collection by going online to adw.org/rpc or by texting the word “Priest” to 301-231-1816.