Gulf Pine Catholic

Gulf Pine CATHOLIC VOLUME 40 / NUMBER 21 June 9, 2023 Father Wilson remembered for his loving care, straight-forward style and humor By TERRY DICKSON BILOXI -- Father Steve Wilson’s death leaves a gap- ing hole in the hearts of many from around the world impacted by his ministry. The loss can be felt in Rome, where he served as an internal auditor for the General Government of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, better known as the Redemptorists. It can be felt in Thailand, where he worked tirelessly for the Father Ray Foundation, a home for underprivileged children and students with disabili- ties. It can be felt in Denver, where he served as provin- cial treasurer. It can be felt in the inner-city of Chicago, where he ministered to African Americans, Hispanics and the homeless. It can be felt in the Bronx, where he ran a formation house for seminarians and in his home- town of Seattle. The loss is especially palpable for the people he served in East Biloxi, where Father Steve and a team of Redemptorist priests and brothers arrived in August 2005, at the invitation of Bishop Thomas J. Rodi, now the Archbishop of Mobile, to administer three parishes -- St. John, St. Louis and Our Mother of Sorrows. Their scheduled arrival date was August 31. “Then Katrina hit,” said Archbishop Rodi. “I con- tacted the Redemptorists and told them that the devasta- tion in East Biloxi was catastrophic and that I would not hold them to their commitment to come to serve in this situation. Father Wilson and the others said that they were coming to serve, despite the disaster. And they did. St. John and St. Louis Parishes were combined, and I named the new parish Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish, especially since Father Seelos was himself a Redemptorist. “Father Wilson could have backed out of coming to Biloxi, but he did not and joined in the recovery effort. He was exemplary as pastor and led the people of his parishes through the long and challenging process of rebuilding. His parishes were renewed and became bright lights of faith and hope to all.” As then director of Catholic Social and Community Services, Sister Rebecca Rutkowski, OSF, was on the front lines after Hurricane Katrina and worked closely with Father Wilson. “In the early 2000s, the Redemptorists of the Denver province began an initiative where they invited them- selves into dioceses to offer their services to minister in underserved areas with the intent to focus on community organizing,” she said. “The Diocese of Biloxi jumped at the opportunity and sent a proposal for the Redemptorists to minister in the Point Cadet area of Biloxi, which had four ethnic churches: Slavic, African American, French and Vietnamese and fragmented, territorial communities of African Americans, whites and Vietnamese. “The Diocese of Biloxi was selected and three Redemptorists -- four, if you counted Brother Gene’s black Labrador -- made plans to move to Biloxi and serve at Our Mother of Sorrows and the then-St. John and St. Louis parishes on the Point,” Sister Rebecca con- tinued. “Enter Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, which turned the Diocese of Biloxi upside down and nearly destroyed everything on the Point. This reality did not deter the trio of Reverends Steve Wilson and Chung Cao, Brother Gene and his faithful black lab. They arrived, and as Hurricane Katrina forever changed the Diocese of Biloxi, so did this merry band of musketeers led by the creative and innovative Steve Wilson.” Sister Rebecca said Father Steve’s impact was far- reaching, touching not just his parishioners but those who were marginalized. “Father Steve’s leadership, which was always for- ward-thinking and joyful, topped with an over-riding sense of very dry humor, slowly built back the hearts and homes of the residents of Point Cadet,” she further noted. “Their ministry now included Latinos, who had come to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. “In time, the Point slowly began to thrive once again: Steve became a regular at Kim Long’s restaurant, down the street from Our Mother of Sorrows, not only know- ing all the staff and customers, but both restaurant menus by heart. He also reached out to the LGBTQ community, who found a safe haven in Just Us, a little further down from Kim Long’s.” Gilda Sizor called Father Steve “a game changer in the hearts and families of Our Mother of Sorrows and Blessed Seelos communities.” “Father Steve and Brother Gene (Patin) brought a summer work program to our parish which they origi- nally developed while in the south side of Chicago with the youth there. This program was the WEAL program -- Work, Earn and Learn summer program,” she said. “Our youth as well as the community youth were able to learn employment skills, banking and saving their earnings, skills such as carpentry, painting, gardening, finance and communication on the job with others and time management. Friendships among the youth devel- oped and trust with the religious and camp counselors and Father Steve. Movie night and going to lunch or out to pizza became ritual outings. Father Steve was right there -- popcorn and the movies.” Father Steve was more than a pastor and friend, said Sizor. “Father Steve was family,” she explained. “With his guidance and mentorship our youth felt they had some- one to trust, guide them through their Catholic Christian journey as well as discuss the many challenges encoun- tered by young people in this world. Father Steve Wilson spoke the honest truth, and the youth respected him for his honesty. SEE FATHER STEVE WILSON, PAGE 10 Redemptorist Father Steve Wilson