An Interview with Father William Woestman

by Eillen Quinn Knight, PhD



Dr. Knight: Tell us about your relationship with Cardinal George and the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the religious institute which both of you both belonged to,


Father Woestman: I first knew Cardinal George, then Brother George, in 1958 when he began his studies of philosophy at Pass Christian, Mississippi, where I was a member of the teaching staff. We were there together for the next four years until he was sent to the University of Ottawa; he then returned as a teacher. Latter at the age of 36 he was named provincial superior, and I was a member of his council and vicar provincial. After two years he was elected vicar general of the congregation and moved to Rome, and I was appointed to take his place as provincial. When I completed two three terms of office, he was instrumental in my being assigned to the general house in Rome with two very minor jobs in order for me to obtain my doctorate in canon law. When I was seventy he asked me—with the approval of my superiors— to come to Chicago to work as a canonist for the Archdiocese of Chicago.


Dr. Knight: How about an easy question: what is your favorite film at this time? Book


Father Woestman: Until a few years ago I was a very ardent filmgoer, but this has changed—with age I have difficulty getting around. The books that I have recently read or am now reading are A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, by Paul Kengor. Getting Religion, Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Ascent of Trump. Getting Religion, Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Ascent of Trump by Kenneth L. Woodward, 2016, and The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, by Rodney Stark, 1997


Dr. Knight: Can you explain to the reader the difference between an order priest and a diocesan priest?


Father Woestman: I will try to answer this very briefly without mentions many details. A diocesan priest is incardinated, i.e., inscribed, in a diocese, and is directly under the bishop of the diocese, who is responsible for him and assigns him to a position within the diocese for his ministry or may permit him to exercise his ministry elsewhere; the priest takes an oath to obey his bishop. A religious priest is a member of a family of persons of consecrated life and has embraced the particular spirit of his institute. He is incardinated in his religious institute. He has made vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to his religious superiors. His ministry is determined by the constitutions of his institute and his superiors.


Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that the use of social media in our parishes can assist young people to think about knowing/loving/serving God through their ‘cyber-neighbor’?


Father Woestman: In a word, my answer is yes, with the caveat that all should be conscious of the negative aspects and dangers of the social media.


Dr. Knight: As a priest of religious community you are able to educate and spiritually form men in the society through your work?


Father Woestman: Canon law is the oldest functioning system of law in the world and is not known by most people and consequently misunderstood by them. The final phase of the last canon of the Code sums up the spirit with which should govern the Church . . . “canonical equity is to be observed, and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes.


As a canonist, i.e., canon lawyer, I work in the archdiocese tribunal helping people obtain justice and regulate their lives as Catholics.


Dr. Knight: There have been very influential Irish priests throughout the ages including saints. Who influenced you the most?


Father Woestman: I grew up in the Bible belt of southwest Missouri where there were very few Catholics. My hometown of Carthage had a population of about ten thousand with less that one hundred fifty Catholics. I was blessed with very Catholic parents, who had attended parochial schools in northwest Arkansas. The Church was at the very heart of our family with family prayers, Mass attendance every Sunday and on all holy days of obligations, as well as special devotions during Lent. We had two different pastors over the years, Both of them were excellent men and gave always gave a good example to everyone. About a half a mile from our home there was a vacant Methodist college building which had closed during the depression. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate purchased the property and opened a minor seminary.


My Dad, who was most disappointed that he had been unable to send his children to Catholic schools asked the Fathers if I could attend the high school although at that time I was not thinking of becoming a priest. The rest is history. The four boys in our family attended the school, and my vocation to the priesthood developed through God’s grace and the example of the priests and scholastics there.


Dr. Knight: It seems that this interview would help us understand your leisure activities and purposeful work that would be of interest to our readers such as the help that has been provided to immigrants.


Father Woestman: I was the provincial superior of the Oblates when Vietnam fell, and I received a call from the Bishop [later Cardinal] Bernard Law of Springfield-Cape Girardeau: he said he had just visited Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and there were about seventy Vietnamese priests and brothers, members of a religious community, looking for a home in the USA. Our seminary had closed because of few vocations and the building being used rarely as a retreat house.


The provincial council agreed to allow the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer to move in and subsequently the property was sold to them at a bargain price. They now minister to the Vietnamese Catholics throughout the USA, and host every year in August Marian Days, the largest annual religious celebration in the country—with about 100,000 [according to the number receiving Holy Communion] present.


Dr. Knight: What other issues do you have as a priority for our work as a society?

Father Woestman: As a university professor I acquired the habit of writing books to aid both canon law students and others. Now in my advanced age, I am in the process of preparing two books for publication: “Canon Law Compendium for the Clergy and Lay Faithful,” and “Associations of the Christian Faithful, Commentary on Canons 298–329.


Dr. Knight: Thank you very much for providing this interview for the many people in Chicago who have been touched by your 62 years of dedication as a priest. Thank you so much!

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