Priest returns to Bennington after varied ministry elsewhere
BENNINGTON -- The Rev. Bob Wiseman, CSC, who grew up in Florida, first came to Bennington in the early 1970s as a novice with the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
From 1952 to 1974, the novitiate -- or initial training site -- for the religious order was at what is now Southern Vermont College.
"So, I lived there on the side of the mountain, milked cows, rode horses, fed pigs and prayed some," Wiseman said.
What is now the college's theater used to be the novitiate chapel, and some of the windows are still stained glass. Wiseman used to run up and down the one-mile private road that led to the entrance, he said.
"I lived there for a year -- it was a wonderful, wonderful year. It was between college and theology, so I was able to reflect on what I wanted to do as a religious of Holy Cross," he said. "And it was just a real turning point for me, so returning here has been a good experience."
He still frequently visits the site and reminisces about the days he lived there.
Wiseman came back to Bennington at the end of January to serve as an associate priest at Sacred Heart - St. Francis de Sales parish in Bennington, and St. John the Baptist parish in North Bennington.
Now, he has become administrator of the two parishes and the Rev. William Kelley, C.S.C., up to Oct. 1 the pastor, has become the associate priest.
"The change is not that significant," Wiseman said. "It's basically I go to more meetings than Fr. Bill does. It's not a whole lot of change, maybe I make a few more decisions I didn't make before."
Rather than on himself, he wished to focus on the Holy Cross presence in Bennington. In addition to the novitiate, Holy Cross also started ministering at Sacred Heart Parish in 1952, he said.
Between 1956 and 1967, the order also served at Bennington Catholic High School. In a tragic 1965 plane crash that killed several school administrators, the Rev. Vincent J. Spinelli, the principal, was killed.
"Spinelli was one of our guys," Wiseman said. "So Holy Cross has had a very rich history here in Vermont and I'm very proud to be a part of that."
Before being assigned to Bennington, Wiseman most recently served at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., as athletic and alumni chaplain. Before that he served in a parish in Florida.
He has also served in Pennsylvania and Tennessee; for seven years he served as vocation director for the Congregation of Holy Cross; and for a time he worked in Hollywood, Calif., at Family Theater Productions. Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton -- famous for the saying "The family that prays together stays together" -- started this studio in 1947.
Currently, the Rev. Wilfred J. Raymond, CSC, known affectionately as "Father Willie" when he served as a parish priest in Bennington, serves as National Director of Family Theater Productions.
"Right now we produce Spanish radio dramas and English TV documentaries and dramas," Wiseman said. Some of these have been shown recently on CAT-TV and more will be in the future.
Wiseman is the eldest of four children, the only one not living in Florida. He was born in Kentucky but his family moved to the west coast of Florida when he was 6 for the sake of the health of one of his younger brothers.
He attended Catholic grade school, was an altar boy, attended a Jesuit high school for two years and public high school for two. He was fond of sports and had never thought of becoming a priest.
After high school, Wiseman was not ready for college and worked for the FBI for a time. After receiving a draft notice, he left to join the Air Force and became a pharmacy technician. His mother became terminally ill, and the Air Force transferred him to a base near home.
He met a Holy Cross priest while filling prescriptions for the mother of the base chaplain. The priest had asked the chaplain if he knew of anyone possibly interested in studying for the priesthood.
"The chaplain knew me, so he passed my name along to the Holy Cross priest," Wiseman recalled in a written account of his career. "At the time I was dating a young lady. Once I had made up my mind to enter, I told her I would try it out and would be reconnecting with her shortly if it didn't work out. Of course, it did work out, but she and I are still friends."
As administrator, Wiseman has no big plans for either parish and has been attending meetings and learning why things are done as they are.
"Right now, I think we need to upgrade our technology. We're putting in Wi-Fi here; we're establishing a new website, just figuring out ways to communicate with the young families," he said. "We have a Facebook now -- very basic stuff."
Part of his responsibility is Sacred Heart School, where he or Kelley say Mass every Friday and he is a member of the school board.
During his brief tenure, the parishes have begun a joint youth group, because all the students go to the same high school. The parishes and parents also are seeking ways to better communicate with the young people.
Wiseman would also like to connect more with local college students but admits it's a big challenge: "They're kind of walking their own walk, they're discovering who they are, and the church doesn't seem to have a lot of connection with that," he said.
Wiseman puts a great deal of emphasis on just being present to people. "I was told by somebody one time that half of life is showing up, so I've been showing up," he said. "I went to the ball game tonight, the soccer game. I've been to some plays, so I just, just show up, more than anything else.
"It's not what you say, it's your presence, I think," he said. So I think ministry of presence makes a difference in the lives of people."
Pope Francis, appointed earlier this year, has had an impact on Wiseman, among many other Catholics and non-Catholics around the world.
"Right now I would say I'm the happiest I've been in a number of years because of Pope Francis and his leadership. He's not changing any doctrine, he's just changing an attitude," he said. "And engaging Catholics and non-Catholics. Catholics who have left the church for whatever reason, they're saying ‘maybe there's something here for me.' I'm excited."
Wiseman said he speaks about the pope as much as possible and recently recommended a pope mobile phone app in the church bulletin so people can keep up with what Francis is doing.
"I'm excited about the future of the church. I really am with where things are going. There's going to be some resistance, I'm sure, to some of the changes," he said. "But for me, I'm pretty happy. I don't know where it's all going to go, but I'm hopeful."
Follow Mark Rondeau on Twitter @Banner_Religion; email him at mrondeau@benningtonbanner .com
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