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St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church is located in Anamoose.

ANAMOOSE — Catholic church-goers in Anamoose describe their priest as an intelligent, ambitious man who loves his faith.

Father Robert Wapenski, 62, was attacked on church property in Anamoose and subsequently treated for injuries at Saint Aloisius Medical Center in Harvey, according to the Catholic Diocese of Fargo. Details of his assault aren’t being released by law enforcement as the incident is under investigation, but the McHenry County sheriff's department said they don't believe the public is in danger.

But parishioners are praying for him and Joe and Rose Weninger were relieved to hear from the diocese that he’s healing from a harrowing attack on Tuesday morning and in good spirits.

Signs on the vestibule walls on Friday had indicated Wapenski would not be saying Mass Saturday. In Anamoose, Mass was expected to go on as scheduled, but it was unsure who would be presiding over the service.

“It’s unbelievable,” said parishioner Pat Sieg.

For her, it was hard to think someone would attack the man who would come over to the house for family suppers and parties from time to time during his eight years in the community. Though he may not be as close with all the families in his parish, he is still a well-liked priest.

Sieg says Wapenski likes music and plays a number of instruments. While teaching the faith to the Sieg’s granddaughter, the two bonded over the saxophone and would sometimes play rather than do religious lessons when other children weren’t in attendance.

Wapenski has no television or radio in the rectory, but he does do a lot of research on the internet.

“He knew a lot about a lot of things,” Rose Weninger said.

Before entering the priesthood, he worked in finance for a hospital. Being in finances herself, Weninger said the two of them bonded.

Wapenski’s parishioners say his faith and sermons were based heavily on scripture.

“It was like getting a college course in theology,” Rose Weninger said with a laugh.

He prefers the historical interpretation of the text and explains it in an academic way, something Weninger said can be appreciated since the Bible’s text has been interpreted in many ways.

Wapenski is devout and sticks closely to the rules of the faith with a strong moral compass. Joe Weninger said he is direct and cannot be swayed to do something he thinks is wrong.

But he also prefers to be seen as just another member of the community rather than defined by his holy station.

Rose Weninger remembers meeting Wapenski for a chicken wing dinner at a local restaurant. He had been speaking with another patron before the Weningers arrived and they suspect the man may have been using some rather colorful language. When they referred to Wapenski as father, the man turned round surprised asking, “You’re a priest?”

Another thing the Weningers credit the priest with is uniting the parishes in Drake and Anamoose. Joe Weninger said before the two towns’ merged schools, athletic rivalries were strong and would sometimes spill into the parish.

“Someone from Drake wouldn’t step foot in church in Anamoose,” he said, adding that’s no longer the case. Some parishioners even sing in both choirs.

Rose Weninger said she’s not sure she even wants to hear the details of Wapenski’s attack. She’s glad to know he’s healing from his wounds. She’s just worried about his mental and emotional state.

“It would be sad if he didn’t come back, but I wouldn’t blame him,” she said.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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Business Reporter