Paul Waldie was the finest priest I ever met – a liturgist with great imagination, a lecturer who was always current, and a man who considered only the good in others. He was a priest who was the essence of the Christianity he preached; a man who lived what he believed.
I had the incredible good fortune to call Paul Waldie my friend, and he became, over decades, one of the most important figures in my life. He baptized my daughter, Anne, and my grandson, Joshua. He married both of my daughters, and he celebrated the funeral masses of both of my parents.
As a teacher, principal, parish priest and counselor, and seminary director, Paul was always thinking of the people around him, constantly considering their well-being over his own.
Paul started at O’Dowd when I was serving as Dean of Boys. When we first met we had an immediate argument-he proposed to be in an office full-time as the school’s counselor; I insisted that he had to teach some classes if he wanted to gain the trust of the students. Even Father Wagner, the principal at that time, taught a class or two, and the vice principals and deans taught nearly full loads of four classes. At the time he didn’t have a disciplinary bone in his body and the students pretty much took over his classes. I spent more time in the back of his room than in my own office. But if Paul did anything beautifully, he listened. And before long, using a laser glare when necessary, he worked his way to the control of his classroom. And that is when the students realized the treasure they had in their religion teacher. Paul could call up a withering indignation if he had to, but it was his empathy that soon became evident to the whole student body. His masses became events, with students taking major parts in the liturgies-serving, singing, praying with this impressive priest who seemed to know exactly what they needed.
Father Paul Waldie (left) with Author Jack Dold (right).
Paul Waldie was always current. He worked Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles, and other rock groups, into his masses, aided by students on piano, drums and guitars, even harmonicas. He urged the students to hug one another instead of a handshake for the Kiss of Peace. And before long, those students were hugging parents and teachers who happened to be around them. And his sermons spoke to the very real problems students were facing and gave them guidance that was useful and immediately applicable. This was no rehashing of the bible passages of the day; his words went to the core of what was on the mind of his community. And in this case, his community was the student body of Bishop O’Dowd High School.
In a few years, Father Paul was asked to become principal. He no more wanted to be principal than he wanted initially to be a classroom teacher. But he accepted with humility, and he served as principal for six years, during which time the school thrived.
His order called him to yet another service-he became Provincial of the Oblates in the Western Provinces, a post he occupied for six years. In 1984, he was called to a completely different service-the parish communities. He served as pastor at St. Ferdinand’s Parish in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California.
He later moved to Godfrey, Illinois, where he was Formator of the Oblate Novitiate, no easy job at a time when vocations to the priesthood were becoming rare, and then became pastor of St. Benedict’s in Seattle – a huge parish on the edge of the University of Washington.
I was fortunate to attend many of his Masses in those days, and I watched him fill that church to overflowing to the point where they had to install speakers outside so that the Sunday overflow could hear the service, and especially the sermons.
Paul’s sermons were essays in how to live a complete life. They reminded me, old person that I am, of Bishop Fulton Sheen, who captivated audiences back in the 1950s. Paul worked current events, practical problems, life crises, and Christian doctrine into a meaningful collage of ideas that were transmitted with great humor, as he casually walked around the altar and up and down the aisles. Often he would establish eye-contact with parishioners and draw them into the conversation. He could speak about anything that was important to his audience.
If moving from a high school to a parish was daunting for Father Paul, it was nothing compared to moving from Seattle to South Africa in 2002, where he was assigned to Our Lady of Hope Seminary and parish work. He returned to the United States in 2007, and was appointed Oblate Superior in Washington, D.C. In 2010, he returned once again to seminary work in San Antonio. It was there that he spent the last years of his life. Parkinson’s disease took its toll on his body, but his mind was always the same-active, concerned, empathetic, modern, finding humor in everything.
I believe that Father Paul Waldie was the only living saint I have ever met. He was the essence of the Christian man-caring completely about the person before him, never thinking about himself as he ministered to his flock, whether that flock be a student body, a parish congregation or an African tribe. He could touch your soul with his words. He could inspire your life with his actions. And in his words and his actions, he was a man without self-a man of his people.