Longtime priest returns to PdC for a week, reflects on his local impact

Rhonda Stubbe takes Fr. John “Jack” Wambach for a spin during the chicken dance at his 80th birthday party celebration at St. Gabriel’s school cafeteria. (Photo by Caitlin Bittner)

By Correne Martin

The beloved Father John “Jack” Wambach spent a week in Prairie du Chien recently, where he once served as priest of St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church for 22 years, from 1977 to 1981 and again from 1989 to 2008. He also taught at Campion Jesuit High School for three years­.

During his recent stay, Sept. 21-28, he celebrated his 80th birthday with family and parishioners and enjoyed his other days meeting and visiting with old acquaintances.

Wambach, whose birthday was Sept. 21, was received by a full church on Sept. 22 when he concelebrated Mass with Father James Weighner.

“I was especially happy to see all the people. I was nervous about giving the homily, but it seemed to go over well,” he said, sitting down to an interview with the Courier Press Sept. 24. “It made me feel real good to see everyone there.”
Following Mass, a birthday party accommodated about 300 people in St. Gabe’s basement. Dinner, music and dancing were shared along with a memory table of pictures of Fr. Jack as a child and through his 49 years in the priesthood. (He was ordained at Gesu Church in Milwaukee on June 16, 1964.) He also had plenty of time to socialize.

“Some of the people I talked to made great sacrifice to come,” Wambach said. “I was really boosted. I didn’t know what to expect but it was wonderful.”

During his week-long stay, Wambach stayed with Prairie du Chien resident Doris Krogman, who appreciated the opportunity to accompany Father on many of his local engagements. He had a full schedule of social gatherings and pastor work while here, and he said the week was very good for him in an emotional way.

“It has helped me to see the true reality of my time here. I see I must have done a pretty good job,” he said with a smile. “I loved it here. I guess the big thing I’ve realized is that the people loved me too.”

Fr. Wambach retired from his duties in Prairie du Chien five years ago. He then moved to Wauwatosa, where he resides at the St. Camillus Jesuit Community Home and continues his pastor work in the vicinity. He spreads the Word of God via several masses a week there and through individual meetings with the residents of the full care, assisted living and independent living facility. In addition, he attends a monthly support group for Jesuits, a monthly theology study group, a weekly Chaplain of Mercy group, a weekly Bible study group, and frequent social activities at the community home.

“There are a lot of real privileges given to us there,” he stated.

Now living near Milwaukee, where he was born and raised, he also enjoys getting together with his cousins and his grade school and high school classmates on occasion.

Fr. Wambach is certainly proud of turning 80. Even though he continues his divine duties, he acknowledges that he is slowing down a bit. He said injuries from a car accident he experienced many years ago have started to bother him more and more. He will be starting therapy at home soon.

Anyone interested in keeping in contact with Father may call him at (414) 259-3762.

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