Fr. John Van Wiel, CSV, started out his birthday the way he does most mornings: celebrating Mass in the intimate surroundings of the Province Center Chapel. In contemplating the day’s gospel — by John 5:1 1-16, about the sick man who picked up his mat and walked, and the Pharisees condemning Jesus for curing him on the Sabbath — Fr. Van Wiel thought of his days in the seminary.

Fr. John Van Wiel taught chemistry at Saint Viator High School for 25 years

“A long time ago, when I was in the seminary, we had a class on moral theology,” he said, “and it was all about sins. Literally, we had a book filled with the tiniest sins that we might hear when hearing confession.

“Then came Vatican II,” Fr. Van Wiel added, “and I took another moral theology class during a sabbatical year at Catholic Theological Union, where I never heard a word about sin. My teacher summed it up in four words: ‘Do good, avoid evil.’ ”

That same philosophy sums up Fr. Van Wiel’s approach with students in the classroom, including his 25 years of teaching chemistry at Saint Viator High School. Instead of focusing on all the errors and mistakes students made on tests, he would let them look it over again, after they had handed their tests in, to review their work. For Fr. Van Wiel, it was about making sure students understood the material, not about catching them making mistakes.

“Father realized that the role of teacher is ultimately not to just be scorekeeper, but to encourage, inspire, and at times, give a kid like me a molecular modeling kit,” said Elizabeth Miklius Mainardi, a 2000 Saint Viator High School alumna, now teaching science at a New Jersey high school, “so that she could have the confidence to keep going.”

Fr. John Van Wiel captures the beauty of the sugar maple in the fall of 2020.

Now, more than 10 years into his retirement, Fr. Van Wiel still tutors on occasion, but mostly he enjoys walking the spacious Province Center grounds and taking in its abundant trees, perennials and fawn and flora. And when he’s not enjoying the outdoors, he can be found painting its wonders.

Fr. Van Wiel created more than 100 paintings during the pandemic and he continues to paint from his room in the Province Center, where has a bird’s eye view of all of the trees and wildlife from his windows.

His latest is a series of horses, much like he did a series of birds in 2022.

“I’ve done lots of landscapes,” he says, “but I’ve never painted horses. They’re just an animal I hadn’t painted before.”

At 84 years old, Fr. Van Wiel now has the time to enjoy God’s creation around him and the wisdom not to sweat the small stuff. Do good, as he said in his homily, and avoid evil.