Since a college typically expresses its purpose in a mission statement, it was logical that Ripon College awarded an honorary degree to a missionary.
During May graduation ceremonies, the nonsectarian liberal arts college conferred a doctor of humane letters degree on Capuchin Fr. Walter “Fr. Wally” Kasuboski, 63, who grew up on a farm outside Ripon, graduated from the Saint Francis School of Pastoral Ministry and has ministered for more than 20 years in the jungles of Panama. Ripon College cited the missionary priest’s “boundless commitment to the underserved and underrepresented people of the world.”
Asked by your Catholic Herald about his reaction to being honored by his hometown college, Fr. Wally responded, “At first I felt embarrassed because I did not feel that I deserved any special attention because there are thousands of priests around the world who are doing as much or more than I on many different levels of service. After some reflection I remembered the words of Our Lord, ‘Let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.’ But I still believe that the award … reflects more on the goodness and cooperation of the hundreds and hundreds of people who support the mission work I am doing than it does on me personally.”
Those “hundreds and hundreds” include parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena in Ripon (formed several years ago through the merger of that city’s former St. Wenceslaus – Fr. Wally’s home church – and St. Patrick parishes) and neighboring Our Lady of the Lake in Green Lake in the Madison Diocese. Since 1994 church members and other area residents, including Ripon College students, have taken short trips to Panama to work in Fr. Wally’s mission. The Rotary Club of Ripon is among benefactors that have supported Fr. Wally’s efforts, raising tens of thousands of dollars in the past few years for an ongoing dam and reservoir construction project named for the Capuchin and being built to provide safe drinking water for several thousand Panamanians living in isolated communities.
|World Mission Sunday, organized by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, is a day set aside for Catholics worldwide to recommit
themselves to the church’s missionary activity through prayer and sacrifice.
World Mission Sunday is celebrated on the next-to-last Sunday of each October, which is World Mission Month.
Oct. 24 is World Mission Sunday.
“When people ask me how they can help, I ask them how they would like to help,” Fr. Wally said. “If they would like to join one of the groups (of Panama travelers), they should get in contact with my brother Peter and his wife Laurie, who generally coordinate the trip. If they do not want to come to the jungle and they have money, I tell them to send a check to the Capuchin Missions in Detroit. If they do not want to come to Panama and if they do not have money to support our work – then please pray for me and all the people I work with in the mission.”
In 2004, Linda Watt, the U.S. ambassador to Panama, noted that Fr. Wally had “become a legend throughout Panama.” The occasion was the priest’s receiving the Distinguished American Award, given to American citizens who live in Panama and positively image the U.S. to Panamanians. Other honors include the Vasco Nunez de Balboa Award – the most prestigious award a civilian can be given in Panama – in 1996 and the 2008 distinguished alumnus award from Ripon High School, Fr. Wally’s alma mater (class of ’65).
How’s Fr. Wally?
Web site helps spread word about local Capuchin
Tom Jozwik, Special to your Catholic Herald
A Web site, www.frwally.com has been established by Laurie Kasuboski of Ripon “to spread the word about what he is doing” and to respond more fully to a frequently heard question: “How is Fr. Wally?”
Anyone desiring information about trips to the Capuchin priest’s mission in Panama can contact Laurie – his sister-in-law – via e-mail (laurie
Anyone wishing to make a tax- deductible donation for Fr. Wally Kasuboski’s work can send a check to Fr. Campion Baer, OFM, CAP at St. Bonaventure Monastery, 1780 Mt. Elliott Ave., Detroit, MI 48207-3496. “Fr. Wally’s Account” should be written on the check’s memo line.
Laurie Kasuboski, who belongs to Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Green Lake, noted that her brother-in-law now has a Facebook page and that plans are being made for an assisted living facility in the Alto Bayano mission.
His high school years behind him, young Wally Kasuboski, one of 14 children, joined the Capuchins. He studied Spanish in Mexico and was ordained a priest June 1, 1974, at the Capuchins’ St. Francis of Assisi Church, Milwaukee. In his earlier years of ministry, Fr. Wally served in Nicaragua and on U.S. Indian reservations; acted as the bishop’s vicar for the Spanish speaking in the Diocese of Saginaw and assisted migrants in the Washington, D.C., area; pastored an Ojibwa parish in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and worked as the only Catholic priest “in a Muslim country whose name I can’t reveal for security reasons.” Additionally, he somehow found time to earn a degree from the Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., and was involved in the Karen Silkwood and Iran-contra cases.
“Law school has certainly helped me in many ways,” said Fr. Wally, who lobbied on behalf of the 1978 Panama Canal treaty. “It has helped me analyze and resolve problems rapidly. It has given me the ability to help the people (of Panama) write the laws, rules and regulations to be able to administer their water projects. It has helped to resolve conflicts … ”
In 1988, the Capuchin from Ripon agreed to serve in Panama.
“I joined three priests from our Capuchin order based in Chepo (a relatively modern Panamanian city of about 3,000),” Fr. Wally recalled. “Because a large part of the mission was located in an area called Alto Bayano, consisting of around 2,500 square miles where the people in approximately 40 villages were visited by a priest maybe once a year, it was decided that I would spend most of my time in this area. With the help of the lay people we have built chapels in most of these communities, which the laity help administer and where they celebrate church services on most Sundays because I have not been blessed with the gift of bilocation.”
The good-humored Fr. Wally is known as Padre Pablo in Panama. (He explained that Paul is his confirmation name; Pablo, Paul’s Spanish equivalent, is a familiar name, whereas Wally and Walter are virtually unknown in Panama.) Many of his parishioners are poor farmers who live in tiny huts with dirt floors and regularly travel on horseback. Theirs is a jungle existence wherein snakebites can kill almost instantly. Although sickness is common, professional medical care is distant.
According to a Web site maintained by his sister-in-law, Laurie Kasuboski, Fr. Wally “essentially organized a construction company (in Alto Bayano) in concert with a spiritual mission for the souls of the disenfranchised. He created jobs, apprenticed local people as they learned the trades, lobbied his family and friends in the U.S. and beyond for physical and financial support, built churches (and a hospital and high school), designed water systems and is fulfilling his call to service.”
The missionary attributes this call to service to the examples of the Lord and his parents, as well as to “the words of a wise old priest who said one day, ‘The poor will judge us all.’ Although these words still haunt me, they drive me to reach out to the poor and use the talents God has given me to make someone else’s life a little bit less miserable and hopeless.”