Fr. Donald Wehnert, CSV, arrived last month at the retirement wing of the Province Center to rehab after a fall near his home parish of St. Patrick in Kankakee.

Fr. Don Fitzsimmons, left, with Fr. Don Wehnert

The move offered him the chance to recover in the care of medical personnel as well as to reunite with some of his Viatorian confreres, including one of his classmates, Fr. Donald Fitzsimmons, CSV.

Fr. Wehnert and Fr. Fitzsimmons are natives of Springfield, IL. They met as students at Cathedral Boys’ High School in Springfield, which at the time had 20 Viatorians on its faculty. In their class of 1950, five would join the Viatorian Novitiate, located at the time on Sheridan Road in Chicago.

“We met in band,” Fr. Wehnert explains. “I played trombone and (Fr. Fitzsimmons) played clarinet.”

Fr. Fitzsimmons interjects, “I played at it,” he says with a smile.

Their band director was Br. Joseph Drolet, CSV, whom they describe as very disciplined but kind. Br. Drolet would leave Cathedral to move to Las Vegas, where he was among the founding Viatorians to establish Bishop Gorman High School. The school continues to honor his memory and his strong faith, with the Br. Joseph Drolet Award for Transmitting the Faith, awarded annually.

Among the other Viatorians on staff at Cathedral, Fr. Fitzsimmons points to Fr. Francis E. Williams, CSV, who taught him religion his freshman and sophomore years. Fr. Williams would later be the first principal of Saint Viator High School. Fr. Wehnert described Fr. Manuel Loughran, CSV, his Latin teacher, as a big influence. Fr. Loughran arrived at Cathedral after serving as Novice Master for five years for the Viatorians.

First row, (L-R): Fitzsimmons, Hughes, Schertz, Yarno, Fisherkeller and Zimmerman. Second Row: Langenfeld, Rodens, Huntimer, Wehnert, Welsh and Cahill.

Fr. Wehnert and Fr. Fitzsimmons spent four years together in the Novitiate, rooming together their senior year while they attended Loyola University. In all, there were 19 who started in their Novice class. Among them was Fr. Patrick Cahill, CSV, who would serve as a teacher, athletic director and ultimately President of Saint Viator High School.

Fr. Don Fitzsimmons enjoying the plants at the Province Center

Another was Fr. Thomas Langenfeld, CSV, a best friend of Fr. Fitzsimmons since grammar school. He would go on to serve two terms as Superior General of the worldwide Viatorian Community.

Fr. Fitzsimmons and Fr. Wehnert took slightly different paths after leaving the Novitiate. Fr. Fitzsimmons would be ordained in 1960 and begin his ministry in teaching before going into counseling, and specifically substance abuse counseling. Fr. Wehnert was ordained in 1963 and would go on to spend the bulk of his years in pastoral ministry, including the last 25 as parochial vicar at St. Patrick Church in Kankakee.

Fr. Don Wehnert, celebrating his 90th birthday in 2022

Despite their 70 years as Viatorians, the two former classmates and roommates never served together at the same place. Now retired, they are enjoying being together again at the Province Center, where Fr. Fitzsimmons walks its long corridors daily and where Fr. Wehnert is working to catch up to him.

They laugh as they recalled details from their years together in high school and the Novitiate and often finished one another’s sentences. Yet, asked if they were happy to be reunited, they answered in unison: “Yes!”