Sitting in the courtyard at St. Francis Borgia Parish, Father Joseph Wormek, the new associate pastor, complimented the church, the community and Pastor Father Brian Hecktor.
Father Wormek, who grew up in South St. Louis, said he knew in fifth-grade, when he was a server at Mass, that he wanted to be a priest.
“I wanted to do what the big guy did,” he said.
Father Wormek said his parents, Florentine and Edwin, were active in church as he was growing up. Hisfather sang in the church choir and was active in the local Knights of Columbus group. His stay-at-home-mom mother was active in his school.
After eighth grade, Father Wormek attended a high school seminary, St. Louis Prepatory Seminary South in Shrewsbury, which is no longer in existence. Students traveled from all over the St. Louis Archdiocese to attend the high school. Some even stayed on the college campus because the commute was so far.
After high school, he attended Cardinal Glennon College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 1972.
Father Wormek recalled that in college, he was required to wear a cassock or clergy shirt to class.
He attended Kenrick Seminary, where he was ordained May 22, 1976.
After he was ordained, Father Wormek was assigned to Holy Innocents in St. Louis, where he served for three years. The church is no longer in existence.
From there, he went to Mary Queen of the Universe in Lemay for four years.
Since 1956, the St. Louis Archdiocese has had a missionary program with La Paz, Bolivia. Because the United States had an abundance of priests back then, pastors could volunteer to travel to one of several South American countries to serve.
Through the Maryknoll religious order, Father Wormek, who didn’t speak Spanish, took a 20-week crash course in the language. He was then assigned to Cristo Rey (Christ the King) where he served for nearly four years.
In 1986, Father Wormek returned to St. Louis to be closer to his ailing mother and father. His mother had a mastectomy, a stroke and was diagnosed with a brain tumor within 18 months. After she passed away, Father Wormek did not return to South America.
He was then assigned to Good Shepherd Parish, Ferguson, where he spent the next five years as an associate pastor.
It was at Christ Prince of Peace, Manchester, that Father Wormek served for the first time as a pastor in the United States, rather than an associate. He spent a total of 12 years at that church, two initially as an associate pastor, and 10 as pastor before taking a two-year sabbatical in 2005-2006.
Father Wormek said needed to take a break from the “constant grind” of priesthood, and even was open to leaving the priesthood.
During that time, he worked as in investment representative for Edward Jones, as well as a substitute teacher in the Northwest R-1 and Hancock school districts, and later at AT&T.
His job at AT&T was to call customers in the Yellow Pages and sell online ads. Experts were brought in to teach the representatives. Bluntly, the expert told Wormek that he wasn’t very good and should consider finding something else.
Two of his friends from Christ Prince of Peace encouraged him to go back into the priesthood.
So, Father Wormek called Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (then Archbishop Burke), who sent him on a two-week retreat to discern whether he should re-enter the priesthood.
Father Wormek spent the two weeks with Father Benedict Groeschel, who at the time was on the Catholic news cable station, EWTN.
Looking back, he realizes the other jobs didn’t work out because God wanted him to return to the ministry.
“I had to find that out myself,” he said.
On the retreat, Father Wormek assisted at a Mass and made the decision to return.
In 2006, he was assigned to Holy Trinity, where he served for one year. Then, he was transferred St. Peter’s in St. Charles and completed a “Good Shepherds, Good Leaders” course.
Two years later, he was asked to be pastor of Sacred Heart in Crystal City. In 2011, he also accepted a position to serve as pastor of Assumption Church in Herculaneum. He was there until being transferred to St. Francis Borgia.
Father Wormek said the Washington community is friendly and thoughtful and he looks forward to working with Father Hecktor during his first year as a pastor.
“He’s a very gentle, compassionate, great priest — a very spiritual man,” he said.
Father Wormek will be available for weddings, to visit nursing homes and because there are two priests at SFB, to help out at other parishes.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to doing is teaching in school, to have the freedom and the time to drop in,” Father Wormek said, adding that he would love to teach a class once or twice each month.
A pastor has the final say in everything that happens in a church, Father Wormek said. An associate pastor’s responsibility is to help the pastor, and he looks forward to doing just that at Borgia.
As for his biggest goal, Wormek said he wants to “spread the message of Jesus with joy.”