Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Nov. 1, 1999

New priest on a mission in Waverly

By Andrea Vargo

From New Guinea to Waverly is a very long distance in miles, but not so far in the realities of life for the Rev. Robert Wiley, priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church.

Wiley volunteered to come to Waverly because the parish needed a priest and he took up residence July 6.

"I always get really involved in my parishes and feel as if I've never lived anywhere else," he said.

Be it missionary work, parish work, responsibility for a school system with over 100 schools, Wiley has done God's work wherever he has been called.

He said he has started a youth movement, a teachers' union, cooperatives, and other organizations over the years.

As a missionary priest, Wiley traveled to New Guinea in 1960.

He is very proud of some of the students who have come from his missionary schools.

"They speak better English than I do," he said.

These young people work hard and have degrees from prestigious universities, said Wiley.

The New Guinea people are very concerned with the environment, and Wiley said they call the land the "mother of all things."

Then the Australian bureaucrats decided they knew what was best for the native people, and the end result was a war over land rights, Wiley said.

Big holes are dug for mining. They are left like that, and "here we go again," said Wiley.

He means that people in power can do things like that to those who are less powerful. They can despoil the land without fear of reprisal.

In this case, he said, people died because they fought back.

In the early '90s, Wiley came back to the United States, and did a lot of speaking and fundraising for the missions. He worked out of different areas, but has been in St. Paul for the past couple of years.

People in St. Mary's parish asked for a priest, and Wiley said he could come out to the parish only on weekends and, generally, make an easy job of it.

But he lives here in Waverly, because he feels he was sent for a purpose.

The first thing he wants to do is take a census to find out where the parish is in terms of membership, attendance, financial support, and to find out the demographics of the church population.

The next step is to determine the needs of the parish and how to best address those needs, Wiley said.

New ideas and fresh faces will hopefully emerge from this project.

New blood is always important in any organization: new perspectives and ideas, he said.

That is also true of a priest. He shouldn't stay in any one place too long. A change is good for the parish and for the priest, said Wiley.

It takes time for a priest to know the parish and its people, and it takes time for the people to know the priest, he said.

In an attempt to meet and know more of the younger people in the parish, Wiley has offered them a youth mass once a month.

The young people come and so do their parents, he said. He said he has warned the parents that the music is a little different from what they are used to hearing.

In general, people everywhere are worried about their youth, family life, and their relationships, he said.

Adults teach their children. If the parents don't go to church on Sunday, they can't expect their children to go to church activities during the week, he explained.

Young people also need to be challenged, stated Wiley.

"The other day, one young man asked me, 'Are you going to the football game?'"

"I replied, 'Are you coming to mass?'"

Wiley went to the game, and the young man came to mass.

He said he thinks young people can be inspired by their peers. If a football player goes to church, very few of his classmates are going to challenge him, and he can be a positive role model for others.

One thing about young people that bothers him is a lack of respect for others, as well as each other.

He said he was at a football game last week and a teenage girl ran into him. There was no apology - nothing! She just kept pushing, he said.

He also has a difficult time understanding the way people dress when there is a special occasion.

People have come to weddings in sweats, he said. Where is the respect for the couple?

"I've always told people not to have any kind of affair for me unless they call it formal. I want to see ties and dresses, or I won't come," he said.

Sometimes, though, people are a little too quick to criticize others, as evidenced by one of Wiley's stories.

It seems that during a conversation some years ago with a senior citizen couple, the topic was about young people who live together without benefit of marriage or people who have affairs.

The seniors were absolutely against this.

Wiley asked them if there was a separate 10 commandments for seniors.

The couple was not married, but lived together because of the Social Security rules at that time, which penalized them financially for being married.

The two eventually got married, said Wiley.

However, regarding the parish, Wiley is a realist. "It takes time to develop things. We have to plant the seeds," he said.

After being in foreign countries much of his adult life, he said that Americans can be great people, but we have to get back to basics.

His mission in Waverly is just that: start with the basics and build from there.

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