Father Walter Werbicki celebrated six decades as a priest on June 30.
"It is not only my trust in the Lord, but more importantly, the prayers and support of all of you," he wrote to his church family at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, where he lives and celebrates early morning Mass.
The Toronto-born priest has served in the Diocese of Buffalo since 1983, when he began work as a prison chaplain.
Born Feb. 12, 1930, the first child to Marion and Katherine Werbicki, he became sick with tuberculosis at the age of 6 and was admitted into Queen Mary Hospital, the first sanatorium in the world dedicated to treating children with TB. He received no schooling during his four-year hospital stay. His parents visited as often as they could, but found it difficult to pay for the public transportation.
Father Werbicki realized his vocation almost immediately after coming home. The first Sunday after his release, he saw his pastor celebrate a Byzantine liturgy at his parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He decided shortly thereafter to become a priest. His mother hoped he would change his mind and become a lawyer, but that didn't happen.
Father Werbicki studied with the Christian Brothers at De La Salle High School, graduating with honors. After Bishop Isidore Borecky accepted his admission to study for the priesthood, Father Werbicki entered the Seminaire de Philosophie in Montreal, a Roman Rite seminary. After two years of study, he moved to the Grand Seminaire, also in Montreal, for another two years. After a year off due to illness, he completed his studies at St. Augustine Seminary in Toronto.
On June 30, 1957, Bishop Borecky welcomed Father Werbicki into the Toronto Diocese. He served in Toronto, Montreal and Windsor before assuming his first pastorate in Timmins, Ontario, a diocese in the northeastern part of the province.
In 1973, he was asked to help in Houston for two months. That assignment stretched into eight years. In 1983, he transferred to Lackawanna to serve as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Basil's Ukrainian Church in Lancaster. Father Werbicki had taught himself the Byzantine Rite Liturgy after studying in Roman Rite seminaries. While in Lackawanna, he sought to have permanent bi-ritual faculties while serving with Father Frank Barone at St. Anthony Parish in Lackawanna. His work with Father Barone led him to assist during Masses and reconciliation services at Wende Correctional Facility. Father Werbicki later became a full-time chaplain at Lake View Correctional Facility in Brocton. He sought out residency at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in nearby Dunkirk to ease the drive.
"My 60 years as a priest have been filled with many challenges, but the blessings I received have far outweighed any hardships," he said.
Father Dennis Riter, pastor of St. Elizabeth's, noted in the parish bulletin, "Father Walter has used his personal gifts fully to the service of the Church. His passion for the Gospel, outgoing personality, and seemingly boundless energy are legendary."