We invite readers to send short stories about the ways in which their lives have been personally blessed by the life and work of priests and religious in our diocese.
By Beckie Hesse
With gratitude and praise to God, Father John Baptist Wang will celebrate his golden jubilee on May 30.
Father Wang was born in Shandong Province, northern China, on Oct. 18, 1928. His family had converted their hearts to Catholicism and their family pharmacy into a chapel for daily prayer. Aware that God had blessed their son with a brilliant mind, Father Wang’s parents provided a tutor so that he could study the Chinese classics and become a Confucian scholar. When he was 10 years old, he and his older brother, Joseph, entered a minor seminary.
Journeying home was dangerous, as bandits roamed the countryside in those days. By 1945, the political situation had deteriorated so that it was no longer safe for the brothers to attempt any home visits.
In 1949, the seminarians were forced to flee their homeland on the heels of communism. They left behind their mom, dad and seven living siblings. While his brother attended the seminary in Macau, he was chosen to go to Spain. He was ordained a priest in Zaragoza, Spain, on May 30, 1954. After his ordination, Father Wang ministered in a poor suburb of San Lamberto, where he spearheaded the construction of a new church.
In October 1955, Father Wang enrolled at St. John Lateran University in Rome, where he earned a J.U.D. (a doctorate in both civil and canon law) in May 1959. During the summers he ministered in various parishes throughout Europe, adding Italian, French, English and German to his repertoire of languages in addition to his native Chinese and fluency in Spanish and Latin.
In August 1960, Father Wang came to the United States to teach canon law, philosophy and Spanish at St. Leo’s Seminary in Florida. He earned an masters of arts in teaching degree, with a concentration in Spanish, from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of Maryland.
In the fall of 1967, he began teaching at the University of Montana until he retired in 1992. During these years of study and teaching, he substituted in parishes on weekends and for extended periods in the summers.
Several years after China was opened to foreign visitors in 1977, he led a group of students on a tour to his homeland and had a brief reunion with his family after 32 years. Since then, he has made additional trips home, the most significant of which occurred in 1995, when he and his brother, Monsignor Joseph Wang, baptized all 65 in the succeeding generations of the Wang clan.
While these highlights of Father Wang’s life are remarkable, they offer but a tiny glimpse of the essence of this priest. A man of integrity, Father Wang is selfless, exquisitely kind, brilliant, humble, diligent, faithful, prayerful, wise, generous, merciful and filled with joy. Through all of life’s sufferings and delights he has clung to God, trusting him completely, because of the sure and certain reality of Divine Providence. As a consequence, Father Wang is, truly, a man at peace with God, with himself and with every person.
The most precious treasure in Father’s life is his priesthood. He is eternally grateful for the tremendous opportunities to study and to serve God’s people. With great affection, Father acknowledges his friends from all over the world.
Since his retirement from teaching, he has continued to substitute in parishes throughout the diocese and in Canada, lead pilgrimages around the world, write articles, offer spiritual direction, encourage prayer groups and remain in good health as an accomplished tennis star at the elite geriatric level.
Father Wang encourages us to remain close to the Blessed Mother, who draws us more deeply into the Heart of her Son, if we but ask. On this occasion of his 50 years as a priest, Father Wang raises his voice in song with Psalm 34:3, “O magnify the Lord with me; and let us, together, extol his name.”
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 20, No. 4, April 16, 2004.