As Thanksgiving, 2015 nears, the After Supper Visions team would like to pause and acknowledge one of our own who is concluding a special year in his life.
Fr. Wayne F. Watts, Associate Administrator of Catholic Charities, Co-Founder of After Supper Visions, ongoing member of the ASV Photo Team and Pastor of St. John Berchmans Parish celebrated 25 years in the priesthood this year. Fr. Wayne is widely respected for the many ways he serves God and His Church. He is known as a natural leader with keen intuitive skills, a kind disposition, great humility and the boundless energy needed to keep up with his rigorous schedule.
Fr. Wayne’s view of the priesthood, and of life is simple. On Pentecost Sunday this year, in the St. John Berchmans Parish bulletin, he wrote, “When we allow the Spirit to lead, we will be amazed at the places we will go and the works God will be able to accomplish in our midst….Allowing the Holy Spirit to guide, protect and direct us will lead us to joy in this world and eternal happiness in the next.”
Born and raised in Oak Park, Il., Fr. Wayne is the sixth of nine children in his family. He was a graduate of St. Giles Elementary School (Class of ’78), Fenwick High School (Class of ’82) and Marquette University (Class of ’86). After Marquette, Fr. Wayne attended the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary (Class of ’90), and was ordained in May of that year. Fr. Wayne’s brother, Marty Watts says, “I knew from the time we were altar boys that he was destined for the priesthood.”
Fr. Wayne first served as Associate Pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish, Wilmette (1990-96), then as Resident at Queen of All Saints Parish, Sauganash (1996-2006) before being named Pastor of St. John Berchmans Parish, Logan Square (2006-present).
From 1996-2002, he served as a member of the Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary faculty, serving as Vice-President of Institutional Advancement and as a member of the Religion and Formation faculty. While at Quigley, he also convened a group of professionals in marketing, communications and advertising to create a public relations campaign about the priesthood, a campaign that ultimately won national and international awards.
Since 2002, Fr. Wayne has been Associate Administrator of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. ASV became one of the first projects he Co-founded. One of the volunteers who has worked on ASV with Fr. Wayne since the beginning is professional photographer Jody O’Connor. She says, “Fr. Wayne treats the artists with such dignity, concern and compassion, as if each person were his dear friend. I will be eternally grateful for his profound influence on my life.”
Fr. Wayne sees a spiritual side of the friendships formed among the artists and those who attend the exhibit. He says, “This is my vision of heaven…We’re all here on an equal plain, young and old. Well-dressed volunteers sit side-by-side with people who bear the burden of being homeless or hungry. Our common bond is an opportunity to share a meal and a vision of our lives.”
In addition to ASV, Fr. Wayne helps lead the Catholic Charities Junior Board, an innovative group of adults in their 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s who plan who plan events that promote the mission of Catholic Charities. In addition, Fr. Wayne works with the Community and Outreach Commission and the Development Staff of Catholic Charities to make more people aware of all that Catholic Charities offers.
According to Kathy Donahue, Catholic Charities’ Senior Vice-President of Program Development and Evaluation, Fr. Wayne’s contribution to Catholic Charities is invaluable. She says, “What inspires me about him is the way he lives the (Catholic Charities) mission. He is always helping the next person who is in front of him, whether it’s at a supper, or in a meeting, or in a restaurant, or Starbucks. You name the place, he is developing a friendship, and from there all else follows. He connects good people to good people. All people in his eyes are good people even if having great challenges. You can ask for no greater friend. If you need him he is there. He says, “Yes” and then figures it out.”
When Fr. Wayne celebrated the 25th Anniversary of his Ordination at St. John Berchmans on May 17th of this year, SJB School Principal Peggy Roket shared her thoughts on her Pastor and friend. In the parish bulletin, Peggy wrote, “How does he continue to serve so many with so much? He sees…Through his eyes he has seen and he has counseled young couples struggling with unexpected pregnancies, comforted families in the loss of a son or daughter, walked with young people battling addiction, provided food for the homeless, prayed with the sick, provided work for the unemployed and celebrated countless Baptisms, Weddings, First Communions and Confirmations…We give thanks that God has placed him in our lives and allowed him to see us each with his wide open eyes in the hopes of growing into more compassionate, joyful, faithful, and loving people.”
It was in 1995 that Fr. Wayne began taking youth and adult service pilgrimages to Lourdes, France, where St. Bernadette saw 18 visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858. People of all races and religions, from all over the world, come to Lourdes to see where the visions took place and partake in the religious services offered, including baths in the spring discovered by St. Bernadette, as numerous miracles have been attributed to those who drink and touch this Holy Water.
Despite his increasing pastoral duties, Fr. Wayne has found the way to lead one and often two groups to Lourdes, during Summer and Fall, for the past twenty years. Pilgrims who travel to Lourdes with Fr. Wayne get accustomed to hearing him say, “It’s the Holy Spirit” when someone recognizes “Perfect Timing” or “Can you believe how that worked out so well?” as their trip progresses. Noreen Russo, Program Director, Catholic Charities Homeless Prevention Call Center has assisted Fr. Wayne as a Lourdes chaperone. She says, “Fr. Wayne is someone you just want to be around so you can try to be half as good as him. I try to be like him by letting the Holy Spirit guide me and not worry about the future. Every year that I go on the Lourdes trip, I am humbled how much God does provide ALL that we need.”
In 2014, Fenwick High School bestowed the Lumen Tranquillum Award on Fr. Wayne, the highest award given annually by the school to one of its alumni. This year, people Fr. Wayne has known throughout his life have reconnected with him, to congratulate him and to ask how they can support the wonderful things he is involved in. He encourages people to learn more about and join him in supporting Catholic Charities, After Supper Visions, St. John Berchman’s Parish and devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.
Fr. Wayne also continues to be a loyal friend, to people from all chapters of his life. In a tweet this week, Fr. Wayne said, “I mourn a great man and mentor, John P. Schlegel, S.J. 30 years ago, @MarquetteU he told me that the priesthood is “a great life.” So right.”
Reflecting on his brother’s 25 years as a priest, Marty Watts says, “Everyone he has come in contact with in his 25 years as a priest has benefited in countless ways from his commitment to this job that he loves so much. His vocation has brought our family, friends and community closer to God by being witnesses to his selflessness in serving our Church. He’s an amazing man.”
Fr. Wayne, you are a blessing in the lives of all who know you. Thank you for the many ways you inspire us to try to lead holier lives. May God bless you this Thanksgiving, and always, for all you do in His Name.
www.aftersuppervisions.com; facebook/com/CCofChicago; and Twitter: @CCofChicago, www.catholiccharities.net, www.stjohnberchmans.org; facebook/com/stjohnberchmans; and Twitter: @frwfw; @SJBwebmaster, www.lourdes-france.org; facebook/com/lourdes,france; and Twitter: @lourdes_france.