Love is what it’s all about: Father Felix shared the love of God with all those he met Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Dec. 01, 2011 -- 1:00 AM

Editor's View by Mary C. Uhler

“Love is what it’s all about,” Msgr. Felix Oehrlein told high school youth attending the Resurrection 2004 rally in Wisconsin Dells. “Jesus reminds us to keep his commandments. Jesus came here and lived among us and lives with us today. He lives in the Church and you and I are that Church.”

In the midst of the turmoil of the world and the turmoil of ourselves, the solution is love, he said.

Father Felix (as he liked to be called even after being named a monsignor) lived that message of love in his own life as a priest.  He shared the love of God with all those he met until his death on November 25 at the age of 72.

Working in university parish

I became acquainted with Father Felix in the 1970s, when I was a young reporter for the Catholic Herald. I visited St. Augustine University Parish in Platteville, where he was the pastor. He greeted me with a warm smile and friendly demeanor. I could tell that he enjoyed working with students, university faculty and staff, and Platteville residents and visitors. His Masses were often standing-room only at the university parish.

Among the visitors in those days were the Chicago Bears football team, which held a pre-season training camp in Platteville. Coach Mike Ditka was Catholic and worshipped at St. Auggie’s. The coach held a fund-raising dinner at the end of the season to benefit the Catholic campus ministry program.

I remember attending those dinners and meeting such Bears’ greats as Walter Payton and William “The Refrigerator” Perry. They even autographed a copy of their record “The Super Bowl Shuffle” for me.
Father Felix was in his element, greeting people and chatting with everyone at these events. He always enjoyed people and was able to put everyone at ease.

Emphasized excellent liturgies

After St. Augustine’s, he served as pastor at St. Francis Xavier Parish, Cross Plains; Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish, Sun Prairie; St. Mary Parish, Pine Bluff; and St. Cecilia Parish, Wisconsin Dells, where he had served since 1999.

At all his parishes, based on his studies of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, he emphasized the importance of excellent liturgies, good music, and a prayerful environment. He renovated St. Mary Church in Pine Bluff, bringing out its historic beauty.

At St. Cecilia Parish, he found a church bursting at the seams to deal with the ever-increasing number of tourists visiting the  Dells area. He spearheaded — along with many active parishioners — the Millennium Project to raise funds to build a larger worship facility. The project has made progress, but more funds are needed to complete the dream Father Felix had.

Before and after Masses, Father Felix stood in front of St. Cecilia Church to greet parishioners and visitors alike, often inquiring where people came from and engaging in conversation.

He enjoyed many aspects of life

Father Felix enjoyed many aspects of life. He grew up in Sauk City and especially liked the outdoors, including hunting and snowmobiling.

This summer my husband and I went on a regular boat trip with Father Felix and some friends in the Dells. Father took over the wheel and steered the boat expertly. Afterwards, we enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Chop House at Chula Vista. Our priest friend loved a good meal!

In September, my husband John and I drove Father Felix to Chicago for a meeting of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Father Felix concelebrated the Masses, including one at Holy Name Cathedral with Cardinal Francis George presiding. Father Felix enjoyed the program and opportunity to talk with bishops, priests, and order members from throughout the Midwest. It is sad to think that this was his last time with the order.

One of his hobbies was photography. For many years, he took pictures at the annual Presbyteral Assembly and shared them with the Catholic Herald. He was a great supporter of the diocesan newspaper, dating back to his friendship with the paper’s first editor, Msgr. Andrew Breines. Father Felix served for many years on the Catholic Herald Advisory Committee.

Highlights of his priesthood

Perhaps a highlight of his priesthood was when he served as chair of the Diocese of Madison Golden Jubilee  Celebration in 1996. This culminated in an inspiring pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi, and Florence with Bishops William Bullock and George Wirz.

He also showed his love to many fellow priests over the years, often visiting those who were retired or sick. He kept up his friendship with lay people and Sisters with whom he worked through the years. He always sent cards, including the Thanksgiving card with a hand-written message we received after he suffered his massive heart attack.

Father Felix loved being a priest and sharing the love of God with others. We pray that he is now with God in heaven. He was born on St. Patrick’s Day with Irish in his blood, so we share this old Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.