Fr. Gil Wohler seemed to be taken back when asked to be interviewed. He is more comfortable flying under the radar. Though initially reticent, he soon shared interesting snippets of his 52 years of priestly life.
At 79 years of age, after 60 years as a friar, Gil said his Franciscan life has “come full circle.” He sat in the guest parlor of Mercy Community Winton Woods where he is chaplain to senior residents in 74 independent living apartments. The building and campus was converted from what originally was St. Francis Seminary in Mt. Healthy, Ohio, northwest of Cincinnati.
“I first came here as a high school freshman. Then later on, after ordination, I was a teacher at Roger Bacon High School one year and for seven years was an instructor of Latin, History and Science here at the minor seminary. When I retired nine years ago, I came here again.”
It was the in between part where things started cooking! The Wichita, Kansas, native talked about his other lifetime assignments. After four years as Director of Franciscan Candidates and three years as Director of Vocations he diversified and took on pastoral and other duties at St. Boniface parish in Peoria, Ill., for 12 years.
Father Gil then transitioned to his favorite assignment – as a missionary to Pretoria, South Africa. He was an instructor and spiritual director at St. John Vianney Seminary and spiritual director and guardian at St. Francis House of Studies for 10 years. He taught in the Sancta Sophia National Seminary for four years and preached at La Verna Retreat Center for two more years. “I didn't learn the language but became able to offer Mass in Zulu. During that time I worked with such good people!” In between he traveled to Kenya and Botswana. He journeyed through major cosmopolitan cities, deserts and ghettos. “Those ghettos were nothing like what we call them in the States! I wanted to stay, but was interrupted by the need for triple bypass heart surgery. I had it done down there and was laid up in the hospital for three months.
“Yes, I met Nelson Mandela and voted with the 97% of South Africans in those early democratic elections.”
After his recovery, he returned to the states and worked for three years in the inner city as pastor of St. Francis Seraph Parish in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati.
Then came retirement. But as Chaplain at Mercy Community, there isn't a lot of time for that as he offers Masses, is spiritual director, celebrates benedictions, visits residents in the hospital, and anoints the sick. He spends a lot of time talking with residents by phone. He has a passion for playing bridge, having been trained by the guru of bridge playing in South Africa. In between he will delve into a mystery novel or two.