From the Diocese of Bridgeport.
Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Greenwich, died peacefully June 19 in Greenwich Hospital. He was 76.
News of his death has been greeted with sadness by people throughout the diocese. His commitment to education and his devotion to the people entrusted to his care made him a towering presence both in Greenwich and among the inner-city students he had served in in Bridgeport.
Msgr. Wissel’s body will be received into Saint Mary Church on Monday, June 23 at 10 a.m., where it will lie in state until the Vigil Mass there at 7 p.m. The celebrant and homilist for the Mass will be Msgr. William Scheyd, pastor of St. Aloysius Parish in New Canaan. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Msgr. Wissel in St. Mary’s on Tuesday, June 24, at 11 a.m. The celebrant will be Bishop Frank J. Caggiano; Msgr. J. Peter Cullen, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenwich, will deliver the homily.
Burial will follow at Saint Mary Cemetery, in the Priests’ Circle.
Msgr. Wissel had retired as pastor less than a week earlier, on June 15, after serving the parish for 17 years.
To honor the occasion of his retirement, a marble statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal had been erected outside the church, overlooking Greenwich Avenue. It was donated anonymously by a parish couple in honor of Msgr. Wissel and in gratitude to Our Lady for her intercession in the healing of cancer patients.
The statue was dedicated by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano on a festive Mother’s Day, May 11, with many parishioners and well-wishers looking on. Carved from Carrara marble by the Arrighini Family of Pietrasanta, Italy, the one-ton statue is an exact replica of the one in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on the Rue de Bac in Paris, France. The chapel is where Our Lady appeared to Saint Catherine Labouré in 1830, encouraging her to create the medal.
Msgr. Wissel believed the statue would be the source of many blessings, as well as a powerful witness to passersby on the busy shopping street. “It’s beautifully done, a unique gift given by a very special couple,” he said on that happy day. “I never expected it to be dedicated to me. In Brooklyn you’d have to be dead 30 years for that to happen!”
A native of Brooklyn, Msgr. Wissel, 76, was ordained to the priesthood in 1977 by Bishop Walter Curtis. He holds a doctorate in psycho-theology and ministry from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, CA.
Msgr. Wissel was the principal of Kolbe Cathedral High School in Bridgeport from 1981-1991. While there he founded the St. Maximilian Kolbe House of Studies for Boys in Bridgeport, designed to educate young men in a family setting. In 1991 he was named Chaplain to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, carrying the title of Monsignor.
Appointed pastor of Saint Mary’s in 1997, Msgr. Wissel expanded the number of parish programs and organizations and established a fund to assist the needy, including the large immigrant community. All of this was accomplished, he notes, through the “overwhelming” generosity of parishioners in devoting their time, talent, and resources.
His trademark style of running a successful parish, Msgr. Wissel had noted, was to build a team effort between clergy and qualified lay people. “You have to delegate, and you have to affirm people when they are doing a good job,” he said.
Most of all, he always insisted, a pastor needs to be present. “Serve and love the people,” he said. “Try and absorb all their pains and sufferings. And let them know you really do love and care about them, and you’re happy to be there.”
For many years Msgr. Wissel wrote a popular column in the Greenwich Citizen newspaper. Recently, he offered sound advice that expresses his philosophy of life. “God has given us the Bible,” he wrote. “We are, indeed, our brother’s keeper. We have a choice, being blessed with many things, but unless we share them with the needy, all is for nothing.”
Bishop Caggiano has named Father Cyprian LaPastina, formerly pastor of Saint Gabriel Parish in Stamford and a former parochial vicar at Saint Mary’s, as the new pastor.