Rev. Ron Wekerle

Rev. Ronald Wekerle used to mow the lawn at Our Lady of the Snows. Now, he presides over its congregation.

Rev. Ronald Wekerle recently took over as Pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in Sun Valley and St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Hailey. After many years of travel and studies in Latin America and in Rome, Italy, Wekerle has returned to the town where he lived as a teenager.

Looking up at the tall doors of Our Lady of the Snows Church, he recalled simpler times before he was “called to the priesthood,” when he worked at the long-closed Burger Haus drive-thru in Ketchum to help earn his way through college. That was when the Our Lady of the Snows congregation met in a much humbler building.

“I used to mow the lawn here,” said Wekerle, 59. He attended Wood River High School and has spent the last 32 years of his life as a priest. Many of those years were spent in Idaho.

Wekerle earned a degree in political science from the University of Idaho, studies that he described as “mostly history,” all the while feeling drawn to a life of more direct service to humanity. As president of the student body, he learned how to lead people and liked working with others.

“I wanted to go into the Peace Corps and got accepted, but decided to first try to seminary for one year,” Wekerle said. “I wanted to travel, to be of service and to work with the poor. It took a great while to actually claim that I wanted to be a priest.”

The five years he spent studying at Mount Angel Seminary exposed him to many aspects of life, including psychology, prayer, and theology, as well as the emotional and spiritual dimensions of life, he said.

“The mentors and friends I had during those years provided great accompaniment,” he said.

Those years were followed by studies at Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned a degree in dogma in 1999, graduating magna cum laude.

“Dogmatic studies are the study of the Christian faith through the teachings of the Catholic Church,” Wekerle said. “During that time, I had great access to Pope John Paul ll. We celebrated mass together several times in his private chapel in the Vatican.”

Wekerle said he already had a “working knowledge” of the Spanish language, as all priests do, when he took an assignment to serve at San Marcos Church in Cali, Columbia, from 1995-1997. The Boise Diocese had a mission church there that was established in the 1960s by papal decree, part of a broad movement to bring Catholicism to Latin America. Wekerle prepared for the post by first spending six months in Bolivia learning the language.

“The people were mostly indigenous,” Wekerle said. “But you can discern the presence of Christ in aspects of any culture.”

Wekerle then returned to Rome for graduate studies and later spent a sabbatical year there and in Israel. Following several years of service at St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in Jerome, Idaho, Wekerle again went abroad to serve as pastor to Divino Nino Jesús Church in Morelia, Michoacán, México.

“I had asked for this mission so I could study Spanish and learn about Mexican culture so I could return to Idaho and work with Mexican families here,” Wekerle said. “I knew there were families from Michoacan who came to Idaho, including many people in Hailey from the city of El Conejo.”

Wekerle is well-suited for the Wood River Valley, which since his youth has seen a large influx of Hispanic residents, many of whom are Catholic. He said one event in particular this Christmas season exemplifies the long history of the Catholic Church’s relations with Indigenous cultures: On Dec. 11 at 11 p.m., St. Charles Borromeo will hold a reenactment of the visitation of the Lady of Guadalupe, a miraculous event that took place in 1531 in Mexico City.

“There will be Aztec dancing in honor of the Lady of Guadalupe. It is a very rich experience, and all are invited,” Wekerle said. “The events that took place in 1531 led to the conversion of millions of Indigenous people.”

Wekerle’s travels and cultural experiences as a priest has led to new interpretations of his faith.

“I have found many ways to be in relation to God,” he said. “I’ve seen the risen presence of Jesus in many celebrations of family and culture. These experiences have been enriching to my prayer and allowed me to read scripture and key in on many nuggets of teachings. You absolutely do come to see scripture differently.” 

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