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Bishop Wester's gifts: Marking 50 years of service and devotion

Published: Saturday, July 5 2014 3:00 p.m. MDT

This year marks Bishop Wester's 50th anniversary of entering the ministry. At the age of 13, he enrolled at a high school seminary with the intention of becoming a priest.

”Of course, his father and I, we thought he was young but he seemed determined,” his mother, Helen Wester, said in a phone interview from the San Francisco Bay Area. “With prayer … we decided, well if that’s what he wants, that’s what we should do.”

His parents encouraged him, and his father, who died in 1999, told him he could come home if the ministry was not a good fit.

Wester visits his family several times a year in San Francisco and calls his mother daily. God seems to have blessed Bishop Wester with the gifts of composure and working toward the common good, his mother said.

"I'm just happy that he's happy in his ministry. I leave the rest of it in the hands of God," Helen Wester said.

At times he considered being a doctor and thought about getting married and raising a family — "I probably spared some poor woman a miserable life," he quipped — but felt "Christ's call to be a priest was always reaffirmed." He said he relishes the chance to pray with others, to bring individuals closer to Christ through sacraments and to bless others' lives.

"I realized it's a sacrifice. It's not going to be easy, and there may be moments of loneliness, especially as I get older, you know, I'm not going to have grandkids or whatever," he said.

He has been able to reconcile this by realizing, he says, that he will be giving and receiving something greater.

“Instead of having four or five kids, I’ll have 5,000, depending on the size of the parish … now diocese,” he said. "I just realized that I was very happy serving people, being with people and particularly bringing Christ to them and God’s peace and God’s compassion and God’s consolation and God’s presence."

Everyday life

Bishop Wester developed a liking for baseball as a child. He and hiis father would wash cars together on the weekends while listening to Bay Area announcers Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges announce the Giants games.

"Bye Bye, baby," he remembers Hodges saying when Willie Mays hit a home run.

While he likes baseball, he loves golf.

This year he will continue a friendly tournament with four friends he calls "The Catholics versus the Mormons." He and fellow Catholic Dominic Albo compete against Elder Ballard and Ellis Ivory, founder of Ivory Homes.

"We'll beat 'em, you know. We've got the Lord on our side," Albo joked.

You can tell the bishop grew up playing the game but does not get to play very often, Albo said. Though according to Elder Ballard, the bishop's game is improving.

"That's a problem for us," Elder Ballard said.

Albo describes his friend as being "with the people and about people." He takes care of his health, enjoys restaurants and cooking when he has time, and will clear the table and put the dishes away if he eats at others' homes. With urging from others, he will also play classical music on the piano.

Although the two met nearly seven years ago, Albo has been struck by his friend's concern for the well-being of others.

"He has become one of my best friends that I've ever had because of just that reason," Albo said.

The ministry

Bishop Wester seems wired to give.

This is reflected in his schedule, full of civic meetings, confirmations, fundraisers, in addition to other diocesan responsibilities. He serves on five committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and as a member of the international Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, among others. He is also known to make time for visits to elementary school classrooms.

"I don't think he would say he's giving a piece of him. I think he would say he is giving a piece of Christ to that person because … he is diminishing so that Christ can increase in him so that he has more of Christ to give," said Colleen Gudreau, communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.

"It's almost as if he's becoming transparent and John Wester's disappearing and Jesus Christ is there, right behind his skin."

Elder Ballard and Bishop Wester serve together on the Alliance for Unity Community that looks for ways to bring Utahns together. Elder Ballard said he has noticed that the bishop does not put himself above others.

"He's a very human, warm, sensitive, loving person," Elder Ballard said. "We just need to hope that he has a very long tenure here in Utah."

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

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