After half a century in the priesthood, Father Edward (Ned) Weist has lots of stories to tell. He shared a few with those attending last month’s Theology on Tap West gathering. “50 Years of Priesthood, 50 Years of Stories” was the topic.
“You pronounce Weist like priest, so I guess I was meant for this,” he quipped.
Father Weist, who was ordained on May 31, 1969, served at several parishes and in other roles until his retirement in July 2012.
A native of Cleveland’s West Side, he grew up in Rocky River, where his father was a longtime member of the city’s police force. Father Weist said he was born in the “Old Angle” area of Cleveland and was baptized at St. Malachi Church, which once was a very Irish area of the city. His family tree includes Cooney, Berry and Patton branches, he said, noting his Irish heritage. Although Weist may appear to be German, Father assured the gathering he’s Irish.
He talked about serving Mass as a boy at St. Christopher Church in Rocky River. “We prayed the rosary every night as a family when I was a kid,” he said. That helped open his heart to his priestly vocation, Father Weist said.
He was no saint as a young boy, he said, sharing a story about playing in the woods when Magnificat High School was being built at Wagar Road and Hilliard Boulevard in Rocky River. He and his friends were surprised to see one of the nuns – the school’s first principal. Years later – after ordination -- Father Weist was serving as the school chaplain and he encountered the same nun. He said she was amused when he shared the story of their first meeting.
He also recalled a time when he and some friends were playing in Rocky River Methodist Church while it was under construction. He was in the basement when a police officer caught him and scolded him, which was embarrassing because of his father being a police officer.
“Years later, when my niece graduated from Rocky River High School, I was asked to do an ecumenical prayer service at the baccalaureate – which was in that church. I told the story of the last time I’d been in the church and how I nearly got arrested,” he said, laughing. “And I talked about how nice it was to be able to be in the church to pray with everyone,” he said, noting that at one time it was frowned upon for a Catholic to pray in a non-Catholic church.
Father Weist also shared some moving stories, including when he was a deacon assigned to St. Mary Parish in Wooster. One day while he was alone at the parish, he got a call from a young couple whose newborn baby had just died. They wanted to talk with someone. He explained how difficult it was and that they all cried together. “I thought it was a sign in my discernment that I couldn’t do this,” he said. But a few days later, he got a note from the couple thanking him. “They said that through my tears, they felt like God was crying with them. That letter made me keep trying. If not for the letter, I’d probably not have continued.”
He said the incident reminded him of Jesus on the cross talking to the two criminals who were crucified with him and the one criminal’s conversion.
“What does Jesus do in the face of suffering? He walks with us,” Father Weist said. “I can’t open my shirt and show you a big ‘S,’ but that grieving mother helped me see that I don’t have all the answers.”
Another time while at his first assignment, an upset woman called and wanted to speak with a priest. The other priests at the parish said they’d all met with her and were not able to help her. The woman’s son had been killed in Vietnam and she was bitter and angry. He listened, and then suggested that she visit the pieta statue in the church, telling her Mary could help since they both were mothers whose sons were killed unjustly.
“I heard back from her a few weeks later. She told me she went to the statue and was finally at peace,” he said.
He also shared a personal story of loss, talking about when his 25-year-old brother died by suicide of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage. “It really hurt the family,” he said, adding that someone told him his mother was lucky he was a priest.
“But I was hurting and who was helping me?” he asked, recalling that he even thought about leaving ministry.
“I can’t explain it, but the Lord spoke to me deep in my heart and said that if I loved my brother that much, how much did I think the Lord loved him. Hearing the voice of God helped me so much. And it’s helped me when I’ve encountered other families touched by suicide.” Father Weist said he heard about a workshop for first responders to suicide calls and one woman he had helped suggested him as a speaker. He went and shared his personal story.
“You don’t go to people with theology books and dogma. You meet them where they are,” he said. By sharing his experience he said he’s been able to reach family members impacted by suicide. He said it’s a blessing to be able to help them encounter the Lord.
In addition to serving as a parochial vicar, pastor and co-pastor, Father Weist studied in Rome and spent time serving as diocesan vice chancellor and chancellor, secretary and vicar for clergy and religious, co-delegate and delegate for clergy.
Much like the Emmaus story from Scripture, Father Weist said he has walked with many people through the years. “Being able to find and have good friends to walk with me on my journey has helped to keep me going. The cross isn’t the end,” he said, urging those gathered to “Lift up your hearts.”
Father Andy Turner, vice-rector at Borromeo Seminary and director of pastoral formation at Saint Mary Seminary, will address Theology on Tap West at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at Around The Corner Saloon & Café, 18616 Detroit Ave., Lakewood. “Missionary Millennials: A Call to Discipleship” will be his topic. For reservations or more information, click HERE.