Mexican seminary founder passes away at Techny

Father Lawrence Wagner, 1917-2008

Wagner._Fr_Larry_for_webThe Rev. Lawrence Wagner SVD, a founder of the first Society of the Divine Word (SVD) seminary in Mexico and manager of Mission Press, died in Techny, Ill., Sept. 3, 2008, at age 91.

"Larry once said that one of the greatest compliments he ever received was that he spoke Spanish like a native-born Mexican," said Rev. Mark Weber SVD, provincial of the Society of the Divine Word’s Chicago Province. "When he arrived in Mexico as a missionary, a man told him that he should not unpack, that the people wouldn’t accept a priest from another country. Fortunately, he unpacked and proved the man wrong."

The fifth of Lawrence T. and Elizabeth (nee End) Wagner’s eight children, Father Wagner was born in Pittsburgh, Penn. As a youth, he followed in his older brother Wilbert’s footsteps and attended Sacred Heart Seminary in Girard, Penn.

Father Lawrence Wagner professed religious vows in 1939 and was ordained in 1944. Although first assigned to Papua New Guinea, Father Wagner and other missionaries were not allowed to travel during World War II. Instead, he taught Greek and English composition at the SVD seminary in Conesus, N.Y.

Following the war, international travel resumed, but Father Wagner’s superiors sent him to the Society’s Mission Press at Techny. After a year of studying about the plant’s many printing presses and attending night classes to learn about paper, ink and graphic arts, Father Wagner became manager, a role he cherished until fire destroyed the operation in 1960.

For the next three years, he served as director of the religious brothers at Techny. In 1963, Father Wagner realized his dream of being a foreign missionary and accepted an assignment in the Diocese of Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he, his brother and Father Andrew Renko established Divine Word Seminary in Guadalajara, Mexico. Father Wagner served as rector of the seminary, as well as regional treasurer for the Divine Word Missionaries in Mexico.

At age 65, he returned to the States to teach at the seminary in East Troy, Wis. Upon the request of the Divine Word provincial in Mexico, Father Wagner went back to Mexico in 1990 and taught at the seminary in Guadalajara until 2002 when he retired and returned to the Unites States at the age of 85.

Father Wagner is survived by his brother Joseph and a multitude of nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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