By Dyann Nashton
While a fire department truck stood by and the Knights of Columbus prepared their regalia, bagpipes cried outside the Verona Beach parish of St. Mary’s of the Lake on Saturday, Oct. 20. In the meantime, mourners gathered within to bid farewell to Father Leo Wimett, the somber mood lifting only as parishioners shared stories about their pastor and his joyful spirit.
Father Wimett passed away on October 16.
Bishop Thomas Costello welcomed the congregation to the Mass of Christian Burial by calling Father Wimett “a good friend and a good priest.” This was echoed in the sentiments of those in attendance such as Ed McCarthy who had been close friends with Father Wimett for more than 35 years. McCarthy said that the previous night’s calling hours had been busy and more than 20 of Father Wimett’s priestly brothers attended as they did so again for the funeral Mass.
The homily was delivered by Father Donald Karlen. The variety of individuals addressed were a testament to how deeply loved he was by those around him. They included Father Wimett’s sister, Linda Gozy, of Whitesboro. Father Karlen identified her as Father Wimett’s “sister and resident travel agent” due to the many trips they enjoyed together. He also noted the members of the February 1960 ordination group who were in attendance as well as government officials and even summer parishioners who became familiar with Father Wimett while vacationing at the beach communities on the shores of Oneida Lake.
Father Wimett attended Sacred Heart Elementary School in Utica and St. Paul’s Missions Seminary in Minnesota. He was a graduate of St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester and was ordained in Syracuse in 1960. He said his first Mass at St. Francis De Sales, Utica.
Prior to becoming the pastor at St. John’s/St. Mary’s in North Bay and Verona in 1976, he served as parochial vicar of Holy Cross Parish in Dewitt, St. James in Johnson City and at St. James and St. Ann’s, both in Syracuse. He also served on the diocesan finance committee, as the chaplain for the Ladies Auxiliary, Our Lady of Peace Council for the Knights of Columbus and as the chaplain for the Knights of Columbus in Johnson City.
Father Karlen said it would be a challenge to live up to the standards set by Father Wimett at the pulpit. He noted that Father Wimett’s obituary stated that he “will always be remembered for his touching and inspirational homilies.” He added that it would be an “extreme caveat” to be able to do that with humor as Father Wimett so often did and in only four to seven minutes. “I feel like he’s looking over my shoulder, whispering, ‘Keep it short, Karlen.’”
Upon entering the seminary, Father Wimett received the book, The People’s Priest by Father John C. Heenan. “Father Leo always tried to live up to that,” he noted. “And if Leo Wimett was anything, he was the people’s priest. He loved being your pastor. He loved being your shepherd.”
“You knew Leo Wimett as your priest,” Father Karlen said. “Respectfully and honestly, you know as well as I do that he was a first-class operator.”
He then described Father Wimett’s time in seminary where he and his classmates played cards during their downtime in what they referred to as the “Smoke Shack.” “Father Wimett was a ‘real wheeler and dealer,’” Father Karlen added.
It is unknown why Father Wimett did not decide to travel to see St. Marianne Cope canonized at the Vatican last week, Father Karlen said. Father Wimett passed peacefully during the night in his beloved rectory. “Only hours later, he likely had a ringside seat beside his fellow Utican, Kateri Tekakwitha and watched from heaven’s side,” said Father Karlen. “You’ve really got to admit today— what an operator.”
Father Wimett’s body was dressed in the vestment he wore for First Holy Eucharist each year. It featured colorful felt animals with little, knotted yarn tails.
Father Wimett often said that it was a special blessing that in 36 years at the parish, it never rained on First Communion. Father Karlen noted that it did not rain on this day either.