Fr. Gary Wegner, OFM Cap., will always remember a story his novice master, Fr. Marty Pable, told Fr. Wegner and his fellow novices years ago. It was about an article that Fr. Pable had once read in which psychologists were asked to describe the characteristics they liked to see in their clients.
Most of the responses indicated that psychologists preferred patients who were articulate, balanced and had self-insight.
“Marty then looked at us and commented, ‘In other words, many psychologists prefer to help the people who don’t need them,’” said Fr. Wegner. “I never forgot that.”
Not only as a psychologist but as a priest, a Capuchin, an author, a retreat leader, a speaker and a disciple of Christ, “Brother Marty” Pable always did his best to help those who genuinely needed him. A well-beloved figure in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, known both for his ministry and for his many published works on spirituality, Fr. Pable died Nov. 19, 2020, at the age of 90.
Fr. Pable was born in Fond du Lac in 1931 to Charles and Hedwig (nee Wirkus) Pable. A 1949 graduate of St. Lawrence Seminary High School, he attended St. Anthony Seminary in Marathon from 1955-59. He was invested in 1952 as a Capuchin Franciscan, made his perpetual profession of vows in 1956 and was ordained as a priest in 1958.
Fr. Pable served for many years as a psychologist for the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph and was the director of the office dealing with sexual misconduct. He was also active in the formation of new Capuchins, serving as the novice director and in the postulancy program.
Fr. Mike Bertram, OFM Cap., pastor of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Benedict the Moor parishes in Milwaukee, was a novice under Fr. Pable’s direction. He described Fr. Pable as a simple man who was deeply committed both to the service of his fellow man and to his own vow of poverty.
“I remember him asking the Capuchin community to brew coffee grounds twice so as to save money,” said Fr. Bertram. “It was difficult, as the first brew had scant coffee grounds as it was.”
“He loved to play bridge and would try to teach the novices how to play,” recalled Fr. Wegner. “I am not fond of complicated games. After two sessions I told him: ‘Marty, one of two things are going to happen. I am going to learn how to play bridge or I will profess vows as a Capuchin. Both of these will not happen.’ He let me drop out of bridge school.”
Fr. Pable was also a member of the faculty at St. Francis School of Pastoral Ministry in Milwaukee and was instrumental in beginning an evangelization ministry in Racine. He authored many articles and books on spirituality, and was “a pioneer” in the topics he chose to tackle in his writings, said Fr. Jim Lobacz, Vicar for Senior Priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“He read the needs of the time and would plunge into a topic,” said Fr. Lobacz. “He wrote about male spirituality (in ‘The Quest for the Male Soul,’ published in 1996 by Ave Maria Press) at a time when nobody had written much on it before him.”
“He had an incredible spirituality that really motivated everything he did. He was patient, kind, gentle, friendly and very wise,” said Vicki Thorn, who worked with Fr. Pable in her ministry, Project Rachel, which provides resources to families healing from the trauma of abortion. “He helped me really start some of the men’s post-abortion ministry. We did a couple of conferences on men and abortion that Marty was part of planning, and it really was a gift to the people doing the work. Nobody was really thinking about the impact on men — they thought it was a woman’s problem. But these men had this enormous pain and this need for someone to walk with them. That was really part of Marty’s vision. He brought that intuitive knowledge of men and the spirituality involved there.”
“His approach was what I would have expected of Jesus,” said Thorn’s husband, Dr. William Thorn.
In his later years, Fr. Pable served as Minister to Priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, providing the priests of southeastern Wisconsin with a dependable, faithful ear when they had problems to discuss.
“If Marty Pable was talking to you, nobody else in the world existed,” said Fr. Lobacz.
“If he could participate in retreats, parish presentations or talks about Blessed Solanus Casey, he would jump at the chance to do so,” said Fr. Bertram.
Talia Westerby, co-founder of Arise Milwaukee, studied under Fr. Pable as a graduate student at Cardinal Stritch University. “At the time, my mom was also entering hospice,” she said. “Fr. Marty, who I really loved as a professor, came to say Mass for our family in her hospital room, and at that time she was unconscious and expected to remain that way until she passed away. When he entered the room, he looked at her cancer-ridden self and said, ‘Wow. Isn’t she beautiful.’ And mom woke up and said, ‘Thank you!’ She was somewhat coherent during Mass, and we were all gifted one last Mass together – we held hands for the Lord’s Prayer, exchanged peace, she received the smallest bit of our Lord in the Eucharist, and after that Mass, fell unconscious again until she passed away days later. What a gift he gave us that day, and what a gift his life was for the many he served.”
Fr. Pable’s funeral was held Tuesday, Nov. 24, at Holy Cross Church in Mount Calvary.