Holy in Toledo

Father Bill Pifher acknowledges that Catholic doctrine, at least when preached in its fullness, makes some Catholics feel uncomfortable, angry or frustrated.

That doesn’t stop him from telling it like it is.

“I will always try to teach the truth, the whole truth,” says the priest, who serves as associate pastor at St. Wendelin parish in Fostoria, Ohio (of the Diocese of Toledo). “I didn’t give up my life to be lukewarm in my priesthood.”

Beverly Reichert, a prayer-group leader at Father Pifher’s previous parish, St. Paul Church in Norwalk, Ohio, states flatly that Father Pifher is “burning with the Holy Spirit. Just by his holy demeanor alone, your spiritual appetite increases and you hunger to become more holy.”

That would help explain his effectiveness with prison ministry.

Lt. Terrie Shean works at the Huron County Jail complex in Norwalk. Asked for evidence of Father Pifher’s impact there, she points out a piano that was recently placed in the facility’s recreational space. It all started, she says, when some prisoners requested permission to attend Midnight Mass at Christmas.

Soon after that, a weekly Mass, healing service and rosary became staples at the jail. After one Mass, 76 prisoners came forward to be prayed over for healing — and many now go to confession every week.

“We are so blessed,” remarks Shean, who, along with being a career law-enforcement and corrections officer, is also a wife and mother of three. “We see Christ in Father Bill and that affects everyone.”

Mass Appeal

Whether at the jail or at St. Wendelin, the heart of Father Pifher’s priestly ministry is the holy sacrifice of the Mass, augmented by the sacrament of reconciliation and Eucharistic adoration.

The latter has been, and will always be, a staple of his priesthood, he says. “I tell people that, regardless of their troubles — marriage difficulties, illness, issues with children, unemployment, whatever — they need to make a holy hour,” he adds. “Take your problems to the Lord by praying before Jesus exposed in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Before being transferred to St. Wendelin last year, Father Pifher served as parochial vicar at St. Paul in Norwalk for four years. He may not have launched perpetual adoration there — it was already up and running — but he did much to promote it and foster its growth.

“We have been blessed with marvelous, holy priests here,” says Reichert. “And we believe that the faithfulness of the parish to Eucharistic adoration has brought that about.”

Father Pifher gives an example of what can happen when people turn to the precious devotion. One day, he led a Eucharistic procession that passed by a house known to be used for drug dealing and other shady transactions. He stopped, faced the house and, raising the Blessed Sacrament in its monstrance, made the Sign of the Cross.

“Just a year later, everything had changed,” he recalls. “The house had been restored, cleaned up. A family had moved in. The house had been painted and people were seen mowing the lawn.”

Coincidence? Father Pifher doesn’t think so.

Asked how he keeps up with his busy schedule, Father Pifher emphasizes that he anchors his life in prayer. “Without two hours of prayer in the early morning, I couldn’t make it” he says. “I couldn’t even function as a person, let alone a priest.”

In Mary’s Hands

Father Pifher also says that, following the example of Pope John Paul II, he has placed his priesthood in the gentle but secure hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary. An enthusiastic follower of the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort, he renews his consecration “To Jesus Through Mary” every day. 

Father Pifher grew up in the Midwest, the second oldest in a family of two boys and four girls. He remembers the family saying the rosary, but he also recalls regularly being late for Sunday Mass and religious-education classes that, he says, were less than inspiring. Despite the long odds, he thought he heard a calling to become a priest as soon as second grade.

He entered the seminary after graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in English. He was ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross Fathers on April 9, 1994.

It was the culmination of a long-standing desire to be a diocesan priest ministering in the Toledo area, where he grew up. “This is my home diocese and this is where I am most comfortable,” he says.

Since then, Father Pifher has led numerous pilgrimages to sacred shrines, and he teaches adult classes on the lives of various saints. Whatever his specific methods are in all his priestly activities, they seem to be working.

“I am just edified by the way he says Mass and the enthusiasm with which he preaches the word of God,” says Marilyn Kocher, another parishioner at St. Paul Church. “Through whatever he does, our faith just comes alive. It is so contagious you just can¹t get enough.”

Wally Carew writes from

Medford, Massachusetts.