Manhattan — In an overflowing church, surrounded by family, brother priests, community members, parishioners and friends, the life of Father Loren Werth, who was a priest for the Salina Diocese for 62 years, was celebrated.
Father Werth, 87, died July 30, 2018. The Funeral Mass was celebrated Aug. 3 at St. Thomas More Church in Manhattan — the church where he was the founding pastor. Diocesan Administrator Father Frank Coady was the principal celebrant at the Funeral Mass, and noted the following day was the feast of St. John Vianney. “He was a priest not particularly known for his intellectual acumen,” Father Coady said. “(St. John Vianney) struggled in the seminary with his subjects, but he was such a deeply human man that he connected with people. People stood in line for hours to go to confession to that priest.”
Father Coady said like St. John Vianney, Father Werth was deeply human and connected with a variety of people in his parishes and communities. “It isn’t what you know when you are ordained that matters,” he said. “It’s what you do after that.” Father Coady said when Father Werth was a seminarian from 1946-1956, the seminaries were not accredited institutions as they are today. “He continued to read, he was faithful to going to continuing education, to retreats and to listening to tapes,” Father Coady said. “He kept himself up on theology and the Church.”
Father Coady said sometimes Father Werth would joke about ‘getting my GED’ so he would have a formal degree. Yet he loved to discuss the faith. “Most recently, I remember he was the last two times he wanted to talk, it was about the decreasing numbers in the Church,” Father Coady said. “That bothered him deeply. He wanted to talk about ‘What did we do wrong that caused this?’ And ‘What can we do now to improve the situation?’ I don’t know that we came up with answers, but we talked about it.”
Father Coady pulled from the Gospel, Luke 24, that tells of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who encounter Christ. Yet they do not recognize Jesus until they break bread with him. “My favorite line from the gospel is ‘Weren’t our hearts burning within us as he explained the scriptures to us?’ ” he said. “I think that Father Loren’s heart was burning for his whole life. His soul was burned by the Scriptural truth, the Scriptural word.”
Father Coady said everyone is called to marry their own humanity with God’s divinity through the sacraments. “That’s the duty of a priest above all — to witness to that in our bodies, in our lifestye, in our preaching, in our ministry, in the way we hear confessions, in the way we anoint the sick,” he said.
As he aged, Father Werth developed macular degeneration, which inhibited his ability to read, and eventually drive his beloved 1963 VW Beetle. “On Saturday night, he would concelebrate (Mass), but from right down there because he couldn’t navigate the stairs,” Father Coady said. “He was still here last Saturday night, holding court in the gathering space after Mass.”
The second reading was from Romans 8: “For those who are led by the spirit of God are children of God (Rom 8:14).” “St. Paul remind the Romans that all creation is groaning, longing deeply for the salvation, the redemption of the physical universe,” Father Coady said. “But Paul says each of us in our own bodies, we are groaning in agony, expecting and waiting in hope for that redemption. “I think Father Werth was filled with hope, not that he would recover from his illnesses. It was hope in what happens next. It was hope in the redemption of his body forever.”
Father Werth is survived by a sister, Jean Pfannenstiel of Salina. He was preceded in death by his parents and an older brother and sister. He was born Oct. 16, 1930, to Edward and Sophia (Herklotz) Werth in Schoenchen. He went to St. Anthony Grade School in Schoenchen and two years of Schoenchen High School before attending high school and college at Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo. He was ordained May 26, 1956, by Bishop Frank Thill at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
He was buried in Schoenchen.