Father James Reymann is getting ready to retire. He hates long goodbyes, so he gives you his 40 years in 10 minutes.
“They’ve been good years,” he said, reflecting on his tenure in the Wellington community since 1976.
“It’s very difficult when you’ve been at a place for 40 years, and picking up stuff and leaving is the most difficult, hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
He’s most proud of what he’s built: a new church and rectory and the first in town to put in a concrete parking lot. “We put in concrete instead of asphalt, it’s a lot more enduring,” he said, and in a way that describes Reymann’s legacy.
Outside, he’ll take you on a tour of the grounds. “I’m not a golfer. My recreation is gardening,” he said.
He’s planted crab, ginko and weeping beech trees, just to name a few. He figures he has 50 different trees in the block that has become St. Patrick’s, an anchor for the community.
When he arrived from Borromeo Seminary, the parish was the first priority. He was an engineer by background and had helped build several buildings at the seminary.
Then he was sent to minister to Wellington. “That was back in the day where the bishop sent you where they thought you ought to go,” he said.
“It was a challenge,” he said. “I came with my dog, Charger, and went from a place with 20 priests to come out here and there was a certain loneliness. All of the sudden, just the dog and me.”
He’s had boxers ever since he arrived and is now on his fifth, named Pat, who follows Reymann all about the property, including inside the church.
It didn’t take long for Reymann to make a mark on the community. The veteran teacher launched a strong parish educational program. Today, there are about 200 students attending classes up through 12th grade. Reymann is known throughout the county because St. Patrick’s hosts popular pre-cana classes for couples planning to marry in the church. Reymann also took a stand on building the new middle school and the underpass.
Today the parish is 600 families strong.
Teaching or preaching, which is his favorite? “You’re teaching when you preach,” he said. “You bring God, religion to science, for who is the author of all knowledge? The boss of all nature? It’s God. You may be teaching math and science, but behind it all is God and he is an excellent teacher.”
“Because father has been so strong, active, and vibrant, we have blossomed into something,” said Becky Burkhardt, who helps plan the weekly liturgies. “He is an icon in this community. He has made himself that by being well-known in the community, being very open with people, and being non-judgmental.”
Under Reymann, the church is very ecumenical. People who don’t belong to a church will often ask Reymann to preside at their funeral at one of the nearby funeral homes. He was one of the wise men in this year’s live nativity, which was a collaboration of area churches.
“He makes people feel welcomed and loved,” Burkhardt said. “He’s practical and influential.”
Reymann was one of 16 kids raised in Akron. He served as a navigator on a B-29, flying the plane when President Harry Truman signed a peace treaty with the Japanese in August 1944.
Then he felt the call to ministry.
“It wasn’t an all-of-the-sudden thing, it was an evolving ministry,” he said. He was inspired by Father Paul Hallinan, the chaplain of the Newman Club, when he attended what was Case Institute of Technology. “He was a marvelous example of a godly person,” Reymann said.
“It’s been a privilege to be the pastor here for the whole town,” he said. “It’s been a privilege to establish a nice building, a nice yard, and have some of the best-landscaped properties in Wellington.”
“I am at an age where I can do what I fit best into,” said the 91-year-old.
He plans to retire in the next few months, which means big changes.
“It means a lot of mystery. It means I don’t know what the heck is going on. I’m looking for a place to live right now in Wellington. Where am I going to go? I fit better here in Wellington,” Reymann said.
Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.
Photos by Catherine Gabe | Wellington Enterprise Father James Reymann has seen 40 years of Christmas ceremonies since coming to Wellington in 1976.