Death of Father Jonathan W. Wehrle
Word has been received of the death of Father Jonathan W. Wehrle, age 69, founding pastor of Saint Martha Parish and School.
Father Wehrle died today at McLaren Hospital in Lansing. As we know, he had been burdened with ill health for many years. In recent days, he had been hospitalized as his condition deteriorated. Father’s death was not, we are told, caused by COVID-19. Prior to his death, Father received priestly, sacramental care.
Father Wehrle served at Saint Martha Parish from June 1988 through the spring of 2017, taking senior priest status in June 2017. For many years, he also chaired the Diocese of Lansing Building Commission, allowing his love of construction, dedication to detail, and exquisite taste in church design to benefit parish communities all over the diocese. Proud of his German heritage, a lover of dogs and all animals, and a memorable homilist, Father Wehrle is fondly remembered by many.
At the request of Bishop Kenneth J. Povish, Father Wehrle undertook the remarkable challenge of beginning a new parish in Okemos. We do well to remember that Father began this project with nothing more than a dream and the backing of the Bishop. In its earliest days, the parish (“The Okemos Catholic Community”) didn’t even have a proper patronal name. It had no site, and it certainly had no fixed place of worship. Over months and years, the beautiful parish began to take shape. As Masses were being said at the old Okemos High School, Saint Martha of Bethany was selected as parish patron, the old Crest Drive-In was purchased, and then one day steel began to rise. When you find yourself in the company of any of our beloved founding parishioners, ask them to tell you stories about those days, the water controversies with the township, Mass in the old projection booth, and so much more. Father Wehrle was justly proud of all that he accomplished, beginning in those early years.
From 2017 forward, there were publicized controversies involving several aspects of parish management. Through it all, Father Wehrle was daily held in prayer by his successor, by the other clergy and religious of the parish, by the parish staff, and by great numbers of his parishioners. As Father Wehrle’s health challenges continued to mount in recent years, many parishioners stepped forward to help him. For these beautiful acts of Christian kindness, every Saint Martha parishioner should be proud. Those who assisted him with transportation spoke of how he would reminisce with warmth and insight, as he looked back on his time at the parish.
There is not a corner of the Saint Martha Parish and School campus that does not bear the mark of Father Wehrle. The beautiful sanctuary, in particular, will stand for generations as the lasting testament of a priest who loved his parish and its people.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete. We do know, unfortunately, that unless deferred until after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted, funeral Masses are limited to small gatherings of a decedent’s family.
While it is not possible for the Saint Martha community to gather together physically at the church to express our grief, let us join together spiritually. After you read this, please say a prayer of gratitude for Father Wehrle’s life and ministry, and a prayer for the peaceful repose of his immortal soul. And please continue in coming days to pray, as Catholic Christians have prayed for two millennia, asking the Lord to bring him into that bright land, that eternal kingdom, where every tear is wiped away and the love of Christ, which conquers all things, has destroyed even death itself.
Eternal rest grant unto Father Jon, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon him. May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.