Saying goodbye doesn’t necessarily get easier with practice and the Rev. Allan Wolfe knows this all too well.
He’s helped guide the congregation of Iglesia Católica San Juan Bautista, a Lancaster inner-city Hispanic parish, through good times and difficult times during the past 24 years, the last six of those also pastoring St. Joseph Catholic Church in the southwest area of the city.
Wolfe, 55, now finds himself preparing to say goodbye to his congregations and the community that has come to know, love and respect him, as he makes a move to Franklin County, where he will serve as pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Chambersburg and Our Lady of Refuge Mission in Doylesburg.
The Diocese of Harrisburg recently announced several clergy assignments, including Wolfe.
The Rev. Luis Rodríguez, who currently serves as pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, will fill the position being vacated by Wolfe at San Juan Bautista. Meanwhile, the Rev. Joseph R. Howard, pastor of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hanover will serve as pastor to Saint Joseph Parish.
Excited about the new journey and aware of what he is leaving behind, Wolfe is grateful for the people he’s met and worked with here in Lancaster.
“I am particularly thankful for all the parishioners of the parishes where I have been assigned, the faculty, staff, administration and students of Lancaster Catholic High School, and all the other wonderful people of Lancaster I have come to know and value over these years,” Wolfe said.
One of those people is the Rev. Randolph T. Riggs, former pastor at First Presbyterian Church, who also served as president of the Downtown Ministerium for two terms.
“Our first interaction was through an ecumenical and interfaith Thanksgiving service,” Riggs said. “He was young and had never done these types of services due to his formation as a Roman Catholic priest, so helping him with it is my earliest memory of him,” Riggs said.
“He’s got a pastor’s heart and a love for the church, which we both share, so we were able to find common ground and seek each other out,” Riggs said.
“I’m happy and proud of him. He is such a crucial part of Lancaster, building bridges between the ecumenical denominations and the parish. His work in the community has been so important … we are going to miss him. I feel like I’m saying goodbye to a son.”
Wolfe’s last Mass in Lancaster will be at 6:30 a.m. Oct. 26 at St. Joseph. His last Mass at San Juan Bautista is at 6 p.m. Oct. 18.
A faithful priest
A life-long member of St. Joseph Church, Walt Legenstein, 73, said Wolfe leaves a positive legacy.
“He’s been a great leader and great pastor, and will be missed,” Legenstein said. “When he told me he was being changed to another parish, I was sick for about 24 hours, but then I got a grasp of it and realized there’s nothing we can do about it. He is an outstanding leader and we’ve been blessed to have him for six years. He’s been faithful priest representing Jesus Christ.”
What some parishioners at San Juan Bautista hold close to their heart about Wolfe’s service is how he helped grow their faith and sense of community.
“He’s guided me in my faith all of my adult life and there’s never been any question I could not ask him,” Ernell Harley Jr., 29, said. “By his example and teaching, he has always been the reason for my growth, and my love for our community and the Gospel.”
Edna Negrón López agrees. A long-time member of San Juan Bautista, she said Wolfe is a very compassionate and loving person.
“He is someone you can trust but most importantly, his words of encouragement touch everyone’s heart. He is an amazing teacher and preacher. He is not just the pastor, he is like a member of the family for so many of us so this is truly heart-breaking,” Negrón López, 38, said.
Wolfe described his vocation of priesthood as a gentle progression of events.
“In my case, the Lord was very gentle by surrounding me with very loving, faithful, and faith-filled parents who helped nurture in me a love and joy for life, a care for others, and a pursuit of excellence and seeking one’s full potential,” Wolfe said.
His involvement as an altar boy, in major liturgical ceremonies, and his exposure to the life of a priest broaden his understanding of what was expected of one and what impact he could have on others.
“I think my desire to make a significant difference in the lives of others and in communities was a major way God drew me to this vocation,” he said.
Wolfe said each new day has taught him a new lesson or deepened an understanding of something, or someone, that he thought he already knew.
“Pastoring a Latino parish is definitely different, not just because of the language. Culture has a tremendous impact on how each of us establishes values and priorities, makes decisions, and relates to the Lord and to others,” Wolfe said.
The Latino culture, he said, values the person and personal relationships in contrast to outcome and what we produce. “So the benefit for me was to grow as a person to be more flexible and adaptive to situations, instead of tending toward rigidity.
His greatest joy has been witnessing people’s encounters with God.
“Sometimes it has been with someone very devoutly coming forward to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, or experiencing the profound peace of God’s mercy in confession, or comfort from a homily that seem to provide exactly the message they needed or in the joy of my parish celebrating a key feast day,” Wolfe said.
What kind of legacy does Wolfe hope to leave behind?
“Everything the Church does is to share Jesus with others. Hopefully, I have played a small role in them growing closer to God and thus in holiness, and not being an obstacle to that encounter and growth.
“I hope to leave behind a legacy that has built upon that with which I had been entrusted. At San Juan, I inherited from (the Rev. Bernardo) Pistone a parish that was alive in its faith in Jesus and overflowing in its sense of community and cariño (affection). At St. Joseph, I inherited a community drawn together by the huge love that my pastor, mentor, and spiritual father Monsignor (Thomas) Smith had for his people and for the Lord in the amazingly beautiful environment that is St. Joseph’s on Cabbage Hill.”