ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Members of the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Rochester lost their beloved retired pastor Tuesday. Father Thomas Wheeland peacefully passed away at Strong Memorial Hospital and is survived by his six nieces and nephews.
He served the Holy Cross community for 35 years, though his priesthood extends back to 1966.
Father Wheeland was an Elmira native and attended local seminaries Saint Andrew’s and Saint Bernard’s. He was ordained at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester. His time around Rochester was spent serving communities at Rochester’s Holy Rosary Parish, Irondequoit’s Christ the King Parish, and Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Those who knew him said he spoke of his great affection for the Holy Cross Community often. They said the people he served gave him the spirit to go on for 35 years.
Father William Coffas, who now leads Holy Cross as pastor, said he found tremendous mentorship in Father Wheeland, and he will miss his guidance dearly.
“When I was named pastor of Holy Cross Parish, that would have been a year and a half ago, Father Wheeland was very supportive of that. I would call him and he was very encouraging to me and my ministry. I will miss those conversations greatly,” Coffas said, “The people loved him very, very much. And as one of his successors now that I’m the pastor, I’ve heard the stories of father’s love for this parish, his love of Catholic education. And his concern for the people that he ministered to,” Father Coffas said.
Not only did Father Wheeland serve the Holy Cross community but he also served as a Chaplin for the Rochester Police Department.
“Father would lead various prayer services for RPD, he would help officers deal with the stresses of being a first responder and he would not just comfort them but also minister to family members. So, being called upon on several occasions to say a prayer but also to minister to police officers and to accompany them in their time of need when they were certainly dealing with the challenges of their most difficult work. Father was there to help them,” Father Coffas said.
Father Coffas said many in the community have reached out and expressed their own difficulties with the loss.
“I heard one story of a young boy who was told that Father Wheeland was very sick and that we should pray for him. And he got home and the parents had found out by that time that Father Wheeland had passed away and it was his mom who had to say to him that Father Wheeland died today. And the little boy said ‘So, we’ll never see him again?’ And the mom said ‘Well, we won’t see him again but he’ll be with us, he’s going to help us and we can ask for his help from his place up in heaven.’ And I thought to myself, that little boy, certainly was inspired by the example of Father Wheeland,” Father Coffas said.
Father Wheeland will lie in state at Holy Cross Church Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sacred Heart Cathedral Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Saturday at 11 a.m.
Masks are required for all services which will also be live-streamed on the church’s website, holycrossrochester.org.