Rev. Tom Wopperer celebrates 50 years in the priesthood

Five decades and still going strong.

The Rev. Thomas J. Wopperer on Sunday celebrated 50 years in his priestly ministry during a Golden Jubilee Mass at the church he stewarded for 20 years, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in the city of Dunkirk. Hundreds of people then attended a reception at the Northern Chautauqua Catholic School adjacent to the church, where Fr. Tom greeted each and every one of them with open arms and a smile.

The 76-year-old priest was asked what the golden jubilee celebration meant to him.

“This comes after a lifetime of work and it just makes me very grateful to have reached this point in my life and to be able to celebrate it while you’re still in good health,” Fr. Tom said. “And, of course, a highlight has been meeting a lot of your family and friends who helped you along the way and having them be a part of this (celebration) today, being able to thank them for all the help and support they gave throughout the years. That’s a wonderful feeling.”

Fr. Tom entered the Diocesan Preparatory Seminary in Buffalo after elementary school. He explained he was inclined from an early age to become a priest, and the longer he was in the seminary (for about 12 years), the more intense the desire to answer the call and serve God became, making it a “gradual realization” for him.

From Buffalo, Fr. Tom went on to study at the Seminary of Our Lady of Angels at Niagara University and St. John Vianney Seminary in East Aurora. He also completed some additional courses at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.

After completing school, Fr. Tom began his priesthood career as co-pastor at St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Elma. In 1988, he came to Dunkirk to shepherd at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, all the way through to his retirement in 2008.

“Although I am retired, I make myself available for weekend work at parishes where they’re short of clergy, and I’m also helping out at the Gowanda Correctional Facility at the prison there,” he said. “Principally, I help out in the Dunkirk/Fredonia area.”

Parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had nothing but praise for Fr. Tom’s two decades of stewardship of the church. Len Schrantz noted Fr. Tom helped make St. Mary’s Cemetery in Dunkirk an all-inclusive burial site, providing different types of burial and interment.

“St. Mary’s is probably the most complete cemetery in all of Chautauqua County, and he (Fr. Tom) put up three mausoleums, several columbariums, and the cemetery is run very efficiently now,” Schrantz pointed out.

Dollie Schrantz added Fr. Tom has wonderful liturgies, and everything he did, “he did well,” including playing cards, which he “loved to win” at.

“Everything was perfect and he cared so much about the parishioners while he was here,” she said. “He always meant well in everything he did (for the parish).”

Howard Gloss agreed, making sure to stress his homilies were “never boring.”

“It never felt like I wanted to go to sleep (during them),” Gloss said with a smile.

Fr. Tom added other highlights from the past five decades included various remodeling projects at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, as well as making efforts to bring parishioners back to the church who had lapsed in their practices.

“There were also efforts with the school to get that on a steady foundation,” he said. “We also established a lot of new ministries within the church and trying to make the church more representative of what the people are looking for.”

With the Golden Jubilee Mass behind him, Fr. Tom wished to express his appreciation to the people of Dunkirk for their continued support and encouragement over the years and all the people that contributed to the anniversary celebration.

“People really came together and pitched in in so many different ways,” he noted. “I’m very grateful for that.”

Concelebrants during the Golden Jubilee Mass included the following area reverends: Robert Beiter, Eugene Slomba, Dennis Riter (current pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church), Msgr. Robert Malene, Robert Ginel, Mark Wolski, Daniel Fiebelkorn, Charles Zadora, Joseph Carlo, Donald Measer, Walter Werbicki, Msgr. William Wangler, Peter Cronin and Daniel Walsh.

Michael Lemieux served as deacon of the Word and Eucharist, while Martin Gallagher held the role of master of ceremonies. Altar servers included Hans Schober, William Gilroy and Jordan Eckstrom.

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