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Entered the Jesuits: August 8, 1951
November 26, 2013 - "It's not how much you do, but who you are, that's important."
This was a hard lesson for Fr. John “Jack” Wambach, SJ to learn. “I tended to be a perfectionist, to want to be on top of things, and to think I had to do ‘big things,’” he says. “But on reflection, I’ve found that little things for ‘little people’ have meant more than big things for ‘big people.’ And that's what our present Holy Father is known for.”
Fr. Wambach also learned there is no perfection in this world. “No experiences – even those I considered failures at the time – were wasted,” he asserts. “I don't regret any of them.”
While his experiences include teaching at Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, most of Fr. Wambach’s ministry has been as a pastor (at Saints Peter & Paul Church in Mankato, Minnesota; St. Gabriel’s Church in Prairie du Chien; and Gesu Church in Milwaukee). He also served as superior for the Jesuit Community at St. Francis Mission in South Dakota. It was from this experience he offers one of the so-called heights of his ministry. So-called, he says, because it doesn’t sound like much unless it touches your heart.
“I was visiting a family at home,” he recalls. “I was very down at that time – it turned out not to be the right assignment for me, and I was struggling with that. But the little daughter – she was maybe three or four years old – said to me, ‘Father, you'll be all right.’ How did she know that was just what I needed to hear?”
Today, Fr. Wambach resides at the St. Camillus Jesuit Community just outside Milwaukee, where he continues his pastoral work – including several masses a week, individual meetings and more.
He also finds it rewarding to live in community with almost 50 fellow Jesuits. “Because I was doing pastoral work in relatively small towns, there wasn’t a Jesuit community to live in during my years of more active ministry,” he explains. “Now I’m getting to know better these brothers, and there are many activities we get to do together. That’s just one of the privileges offered to those of us who live here.”
Recently, Fr. Wambach celebrated turning 80 with three different events – one with some grade school classmates, another with the St. Camillus community. The biggest, however, was when more than 300 current and former parishioners at St. Gabriel’s Church in Prairie du Chien turned out to wish him well.
“I see I must have done a pretty good job,” he told the local newspaper. “I loved it here. I guess the big thing I’ve realized is that the people loved me too.”