By Steve Landregan
Special to The Texas Catholic
Msgr. Thomas W. Weinzapfel, the longest-serving priest of the Diocese of Dallas, died Jan. 1, of complications following surgery for a fall on Christmas Day.
Two days earlier, on Dec. 23, he had been honored on the 70th anniversary of his ordination with a Mass and reception at St. Pius X Parish, where he had served for more than 40 years before his retirement in December 1996.
In a blog marking Mgsr. Weinzapfel’s passing, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell wrote, “While we mourn the loss of this good and faithful priest, we rejoice in a lifetime of service and love that touched and changed the lives of thousands.”
“He forged a vibrant parish from the cotton patches of Far East Dallas that spawned numerous daughter parishes and fostered many vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and religious life.”
On Jan. 5, hundreds gathered at St. Pius X Catholic Church for a visitation and rosary. The church filled to capacity again on Jan. 6, as dozens of his brother priests joined Bishop Farrell, Bishop-elect Greg Kelly and Cistercian Abbot Father Peter Verhalen to concelebrate the Mass of Christian Burial.
Bishop Farrell was the principal celebrant, but Msgr. Henry Petter, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell, talked about Msgr. Weinzapfel’s interests as a pastor and a person who liked being part of a community and who liked to have fun.
At the start of his homily, he acknowledged the standing-room-only crowd. “Wow, I think if the monsignor were here, he would like to take up a collection,” he said to a roar of laughter and looked back at the bishop. “Maybe we should.”
Often to laughter from the congregation, he told stories about Msgr. Weinzapfel’s deep faith, his commitment to his St. Pius community, his love of counseling and advising people, especially youth, and how he loved to play and win at golf, how he enjoyed taking passengers on his plane and how he used his bicycle to help feed his flock, while being fed at the same time.
He recalled Dec. 23 when Bishop Farrell and numerous other priests concelebrated a Mass observing Msgr. Weinzapfel’s 70th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
“He said at that time that ‘the next time that we all gather here together, I will be carried into this church.’ And really just two weeks later, that is exactly what has happened,” he said.
Msgr. Weinzapfel fell on Christmas Day and broke his hip. He underwent surgery days later, but never regained consciousness. He died Jan. 1.
Msgr. Petter said that just before the surgery Msgr. Weinzapfel had told Father Michael Guadagnoli, the current pastor at St. Pius, that he was ready to go.
“He was ready to go not because he thought he was sinless… but because he knew he had a savior and that is what he preached when he stood before us so often,” he said.
Msgr. Petter relayed that in 1963, when he was 17, his family moved from the central Texas community of Abbott to Dallas and the St. Pius parish. He was at the minor seminary in San Antonio at the time and joked that Msgr. Weinzapfel stilled claimed him as one of his vocation recruits.
He said that Msgr. Weinzapfel also was a giving man, sharing his knowledge to help students academically and giving to families in the parish and throughout the diocese and becoming very involved with his flock, but treating everyone equally.
“He used to ride his bicycle around the neighborhood and he would use his nose around dinner time,” he said. “He didn’t have very good ears, but he had a good nose and he could smell good food and when he felt like it was a good place to stop, he would knock on the door and invite himself to dinner.”
When Msgr. Weinzapfel gathered with his brother priests, parishioners or anyone he met, he was known to ask piercing questions in a way to show that he was offering advice and counsel, Msgr. Petter said.
“He really tried to tell the bishop how to run this diocese,” he said to more laughter. “I think he might be telling Jesus Christ right now….”
Born Aug. 1, 1921, in Scotland, Texas, Msgr. Weinzapfel grew up in Muenster, where his family moved when he was a small child. Mentored and encouraged by Father (later Bishop) Augustine Danglmayr, and supported by his family, he entered St. John Seminary in San Antonio in 1939 and was ordained Dec. 23, 1945 by Bishop Joseph Patrick Lynch.
Following ordination he served as parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Texarkana and St. Edward Catholic Church in Dallas before being named pastor of St. John Parish in Valley View. Beginning in 1952, he was recruited by the newly installed Bishop Thomas K. Gorman, to assist in the revival of The Texas Catholic newspaper. During that period he visited every parish in the diocese seeking support for the restored journal.
In May 1956, he was named pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in the Dallas-Garland-Mesquite area of eastern Dallas County. In an interview shortly before his death he recalled, “When I came to St. Pius X I found a bunch of young people right out of the military and college with new homes, new mortgages and new babies who wanted a parish community and a school and I said, ‘let’s do it.”
Msgr. Weinzapfel’s heritage at St. Pius X is more than brick and mortar (though there was a lot of that) it is a Christian Community motivated by the motto “Love one another.” (John 13:34) that has sponsored missionary outreach to Mexico, welcomed and provided housing and support for refugees from the Vietnamese war, and given birth to half a dozen daughter congregations.
After the funeral Mass, interment followed in the Priests’ Circle at Calvary Hill Cemetery.
Msgr. Weinzapfel was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Julia, two brothers, Ensign Robert Weinzapfel and Rev. Joseph Weinzapfel and sisters Agnes Hellman and Dora Jackson. Survivors include sisters Juanita Bright of Medford, Ore.; and Mary Birden of Denton; a brother and sister-in-law, Henry and Janie Weinzapfel, of Muenster, as well as 29 nieces and nephews and numerous great nieces and nephews.