Home Our Diocese Religious in the Diocese of Wilmington celebrate milestone years of service

Religious in the Diocese of Wilmington celebrate milestone years of service

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Church of the Holy Child in Wilmington.

Fourteen priests, brothers and sisters who serve or live in the Diocese of Wilmington are celebrating jubilees this year. A Mass to mark the milestones will be celebrated with Bishop Koenig on May 23 at 5 p.m. at Church of the Holy Child, Wilmington.

75 Years

Rev. William Keech, OSFS

Father William Keech

Father Keech was born in Wilmington, in 1926 and attended St. Peter’s Cathedral Grammar School. Following graduation from Salesianum School in 1943, he entered the Oblate Novitiate and made his first profession of vows in 1948. Father Keech earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and a Master of Arts in American history from Catholic University of America, and an MS Ed. in pastoral counseling from Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. He completed his studies for the priesthood at De Sales Hall School of Theology and was ordained to the priesthood at St. Anthony of Padua in Wilmington by Bishop Cartwright on June 8, 1957. Fr. Keech served in the U.S. Army in North Italy at the end of World War II.

Following ordination, Fr. Keech was assigned to Salesianum School as a teacher. He was also parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua, and pastor at St. Cecilia in Fort Myers, Fla. He was director of vocations, director of deferred giving and support staff for the provincial development office of the Oblates.
Father is currently living in retirement at Salesianum Oblate Community in Wilmington and works with the Alumni Association of the school. He continues to minister at St. Helena’s Parish in Wilmington on the weekends.

65 Years

Rev. R. Douglas Smith, OSFS

Father Smith was born in Reynoldsville, Pa. in 1931 and attended Sitgreaves Public School. Following graduation from Phillipsburg Public High School in 1950, he entered the Oblate Novitiate and made his first profession of vows. Father Smith earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Catholic University of America, and a Master of Arts in religious education from LaSalle University. He completed his studies for the priesthood at De Sales Hall School of Theology in 1962. He was ordained to the priesthood at St. Anthony of Padua in Wilmington by Bishop Hyle on June 2, 1962.

Father Douglas Smith

Following ordination, Fr. Smith was assigned to teach religion at Father Judge High School and Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia; St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pa.; and Holy Name High School in Reading, Pa. He was director of vocations for the Oblates, and also served as associate pastor at St. John Neumann Parish in Reston, Va. Father was pastor at St. Bernard in New Bloomfield, N.J., and concluded his teaching career at Salesianum School in Wilmington. After he left Wilmington, Fr. was also senior priest at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Pitman, N.J.

He currently resides at the Oblate Retirement Center in Childs, Md.

60 Years

Sr. Barbara Ann Kemmerer, CSSF

Sister Barbara Ann Kemmerer

Sr. Barbara Ann was taught by Felician Sisters in Reading, Pa., and that is where the seed of her vocation was planted. She began her career in Wallington, N.J., teaching middle school, and spent the next 54 years with middle school children in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. She became a principal for 21 of those years and also continued to teach religion to the eighth grade. She spent two summers working at Covenant House in New York, where she interacted with children of all ages and two summers in the Northwest Territory ministering among Native Americans. She was assigned to Our Lady of Grace Orphanage in Newark, working with foster children, and taught middle school at Immaculate Conception School in Elkton, Md., for seven years. She now ministers and tutors children at Our Lady of Grace Village and serves as the Felician presence on the grounds where the orphanage was located.

Sr. Mary Veronica of the Cross, LSP

Sr. Mary Veronica of the Cross (nee Carol Smith) was born in January 1939 to John and Katherine Smith, in Detroit Mich. She was taught for 12 years by the IHM Sisters of Monroe. Upon graduation, she entered the Little Sisters of the Poor as a postulant, continuing to the novitiate in Queens, N.Y., from 1957-59 where she professed her first vows. Thereafter, she was stationed for two years in Savannah Ga., followed by Washington, D.C., before being assigned in France for her last year of prayer and discernment. In 1963, she also professed her perpetual vows in France. She served 55 years in homes throughout France, before returning to the United States five years ago.

Sr. Michele Elizabeth Socorso, OSFS

Sr. Michele Elizabeth Socorso, OSFS, a native of the Diocese of Wilmington. She graduated from St. Matthew Catholic School, continued at St. Elizabeth High School, and completed her education at Goldey Beacom College. After training to be an accountant, Sister worked in a bank until entering the Oblate Sisters of St Francis de Sales in Childs, Md., in 1961.

Sister Michele Elizabeth Socorso

After professing her vows in 1963, Sister began a long career as an educator and accountant. Sister taught business classes at Mount Aviat Academy high school, served as treasurer of the academy, and offered God’s little ones catechetical lessons at St. Paul’s in Delaware City. Sister mastered the art of working with campers during the years that Camp Aviat was open, encouraging the young children to develop talents in arts and crafts. As Mount Aviat transitioned from a high school to an elementary school, Sister helped assure the future of the school financially. Her capacity for organization and her practical sense have been gifts to all with whom she ministered. Her spiritual gifts developed as she prepared countless children for the reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Communion throughout the years.

In 1998, Sr. Michele Elizabeth, along with two other Oblate Sisters, founded Holy Cross Academy in Fredericksburg, Va. Following seven years of service in Virginia, Sister returned to her home base in Childs, where she continues to share a ready smile and gracious service in the school and community. Sister is a familiar presence in the school halls and quietly offers service wherever she can. Her devotion to the souls in purgatory has been a standard in her life. She often recommends devotion, prayers and Masses for the “poor souls” who intercede on our behalf. She readily offers a spiritual thought or maxim of her Salesian Saints throughout her day. Sr. Michele Elizabeth Socorso is a constant reminder of God’s goodness to each of us.

Sr Cecile Zeringue, LSP

Sr. Cecile Zeringue, LSP, will celebrate 60 years of final vows on Oct, 15, 2023, in the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor. She serves in the care of the elderly in the northeastern United States.

55 Years

Rev. Gerald M. Dunne, OSFS

Father Gerald Dunne

Father Dunne was born in Philadelphia in 1947 and attended Saint Columba Grammar School. Following graduation from Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1965, he entered the Oblate Novitiate and made his first profession of vows in 1968. Father Dunne earned a Bachelor of Arts in politics from Allentown College, a Master of Arts in theology from Salesian School of Theology, and a Master of Arts in politics from Villanova University. He completed his studies for the priesthood at De Sales Hall School of Theology in Hyattsville, Md. He was ordained to the priesthood at Our Lady of Ransom Church in Philadelphia by Bishop Edward Hughes on May 21, 1977.

Following ordination, Fr. Dunne was assigned to Salesianum School where he was a teacher. Fr. Dunne also served at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington. He taught at Northeast Catholic High School, and Father Judge High School, both in Philadelphia. Fr. Dunne was parochial vicar at St. John Neumann in Reston, Va. He is currently parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception Church in Elkton, Md.

Rev. James R. Yeakel, OSFS

Father James Yeakel

Father James R. Yeakel, OSFS, is a professed Oblate of St. Francis de Sales for 40 years. He was born in Philadelphia in 1949. He attended St. Francis of Assisi grade school and graduated from Northeast Catholic High School, Philadelphia, in 1967. Following graduation, he entered the Oblate Novitiate and made his first profession of vows in August, 1968. Father Yeakel earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from Allentown College, Allentown, Pa., an MSW in clinical social work from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; a Master of Arts in Pastoral theology from De Sales School of Theology, and a Ph.D. in clinical social work from Virginia Commonwealth University. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Edward T. Hughes on May 19, 1979, at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Pa.

Father’s assignments include case worker for Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.; faculty, De Sales School of Theology in Washington, D.C.; director of pastoral care, St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Va.; parochial vicar, Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Vienna, Va.; inpatient therapist, St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md.; director of pastoral care, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, N.Y.; and parochial vicar, Our Mother of Consolation Parish in Philadelphia, Pa. Father is currently the pastor at Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md.

50 Years

Sr. Christina Marie Fu, LSP

Sister Christina was born and raised in Hong Kong to a traditional Chinese family. Her parents came to Hong Kong from southern China in 1930s and raised a family of eight. According to Sister Christina, “They had never been in contact with any Christians before but were willing to send all the kids to Catholic schools where they knew we’ll get a good education.” Her parents worked hard and were able to send her to a high school run by the Maryknoll Sisters, where she was introduced to the faith. She consequently entered the Catholic Church in 1964 with the consent of her parents.

“I always treasured my time with the  Maryknoll Sisters, 10 years altogether, and I’m ever so grateful for their part in my faith journey.” It was through the Maryknolls that Sister got to know the Little Sisters of the Poor. She joined the Little Sisters in 1970 and professed her first vows in the Novitiate in Sydney, Australia, on March 15, 1973. She worked in the foundation in Taipei, Taiwan, untill 1975 and then was sent to France to continue religious formation.

She made her final profession in 1978 at the Motherhouse in France. She then went to England to study nursing. In 50 years in the Little Sisters of the Poor she has served in France, the Far East and New Caledonia in the South Pacific. She came to the U.S. in 1992. “I’m always very grateful for the opportunity to serve the elderly poor in so many and diverse places. I can only thank God for his invitation and the grace to answer his call.”

Bro. Harry G. Schneider, OSFS

Brother Harry Schneider

Brother Schneider was born in Philadelphia in 1952 and attended St. Timothy Grammar School. Following graduation from Father Judge Catholic High School in Philadelphia in 1970, he entered the Oblate Postulant Program. In 1972 he entered the novitiate and made his first profession of vows in 1973. Brother attended Lincoln Technical Institute earning an associate’s degree in electronic technology Engineering.

Following graduation, Brother Schneider served the Northeast Catholic High School community teaching electronics and developing an audio-visual center. Brother Schneider served the Northeast Catholic High School community for 27 years until he was transferred to the Salesianum School community. He served as the school’s director of technology for 11 years until his transfer to DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., where he managed the education management system for five years. Brother Schneider was next transferred to the provincial offices to manage the digital technology for the provincial offices.

Sr. Mary Smith, OSF

Sister Mary Smith

Sr. Mary Smith, OSF, a native of Towson, Md., was taught in elementary and high school by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, whom she admired as faith-filled and joyful religious, and who inspired her to follow a call to the Franciscan way of life. She has ministered in the Diocese of Wilmington for 32 years. Her early ministries included teaching at St. John the Beloved School, Padua Academy and St. Mark’s High School. Upon completing an M.S.W. at the Catholic University of America, she ministered for 19 years in the Family Counseling Program of Catholic Charities in the Wilmington Diocese, and later at Our Lady of Fatima School and parish, providing family counseling services.

For 14 years she also served as director of pastoral services for her religious community. Currently, she ministers at St. Ann School in Wilmington promoting health and wellness with students.

Rev. James M. Turner, OSFS

Father James Turner

Father Turner was born in Paris, Ill., in 1952 and attended a variety of grammar schools. Following graduation from Salesianum School in Wilmington in 1970, he entered the Oblate Novitiate and made his first profession of vows in 1973. Father Turner earned a BS in biology at Allentown College, a Bachelor of Arts in theology from DeSales School of Theology, and a MSSS in biology from Villanova University. He completed his studies for the priesthood at De Sales Hall School of Theology and was ordained to the priesthood at Our Lady of Ransom Church in Philadelphia, Pa., by Bishop Edward J. Schlotterback, OSFS, on June 13, 1981.

Following ordination, Fr. Turner was assigned to Salesianum School where he was a teacher. Fr. Turner was also parochial vicar at Holy Infant in Durham, N.C.; St. John Neumann in Reston, Va.; Immaculate Heart of Mary in High Point, N.C.; St. Anthony of Padua, Wilmington; and Holy Redeemer by the Sea in Kitty Hawk, N.C. Fr. Turner was pastor at Our Lady of the Highways in Thomasville, N.C. for 13 years.

Father is currently living in retirement at DeSales Centre Oblate Residence in Childs, Md.

45 Years

Rev. Mark J. Wrightson, OSFS

Father Wrightson was born in Wilmington in 1957 and attended Christ Our King School. Following graduation from Salesianum School in Wilmington in 1975, he entered the Oblate Novitiate and made his first profession of vows in 1978. Father Wrightson earned a BS in French at Allentown College, an MA in English at Villanova University, an MA in theology from DeSales School of Theology, and an MA in secondary school administration from Villanova University and was ordained to the priesthood at Our Lady of Ransom Church in Philadelphia, Pa., by Bishop Edward J. Schlotterback, OSFS, on May 31, 1986.

Father Mark Wrightson

Following ordination, Fr. Wrightson was assigned to Salesianum School, where he was a teacher.

Fr. Wrightson also was parochial vicar at Our Lady of Light in Fort Myers, Fla.; St. Paul the Apostle in Greensboro, N.C.; St. Thomas More Oratory in Newark; and St. Anthony of Padua, Wilmington. He was president at Northeast Catholic High School, Philadelphia, Pa., special assistant to the president for the 100th anniversary of Salesianum School; a staff member at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla.; and pastor at St. Francis de Sales in Robesonia, Pa.

Father is currently the pastor at St. Anthony of Padua in Wilmington.

30 Years

Rev. John A. Kolodziej, OSFS

Father Jack Kolodziej

Father Kolodziej was born in Philadelphia in 1969 and attended Nativity B.V.M. parish school. Father Jack went on to Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia, and following graduation from Holy Family College in 1991, he entered the Oblates and made his first profession of vows in 1993. Father Jack was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Michael Saltarelli in January 1999 at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington.

Following ordination, Fr. Jack was assigned to Salesianum School. He served as school chaplain for six years and studied gerontology at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia.

Father spent a year ministering at the Oblate retirement residence in Childs, Md., before moving back to Philadelphia in 2006 to serve as assistant principal for student affairs. Fr. Jack returned to Salesianum in 2019 as superior of the Oblate community.

In 2023 he was elected as provincial superior of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province.