Richard Wersing / Missionary priest and Duquesne U. professor
Feb. 12, 1910 – Aug. 23, 2006
Friday, August 25, 2006
By the time the Rev. Richard Wersing was assigned to Duquesne University in 1971, he had already traveled the world over after serving for 24 years as a chaplain with the U.S. Army.
Father Wersing, who taught literature and poetry and later became the university's archivist, died Wednesday at age 96.
He professed his vows in 1934, when he was 24. Three years later he was ordained a Catholic priest, joining the Congregation of the Holy Spirit Order.
Just before the outbreak of World War II, Father Wersing signed on as chaplain in the Army. So many of the stories he would later weave stemmed from his adventures there. Some, such as the tale that he was the first to cross the Rhine River to greet the Russians, are almost mythical. Other tales include the foxholes of the second World War and the cold in the Korean.
Father Wersing also served in Algeria, Morocco and Israel, as well as chaplain for the Atomic Energy Project in New Mexico.
After 24 years of service, Father Wersing retired as Lieutenant Colonel and returned to Pittsburgh to teach at Duquesne University. He was assigned to the English department, where he taught the literature and poetry he so loved to freshmen and sophomores. Father Wersing enjoyed the act of speaking and performing, and recounting anecdotes in front of his young audience.
Sometimes in the evenings, after class, he'd get a ride to Wilkinsburg to watch young people play baseball. He never worried about a ride home; he always found one.
In 1978, Father Wersing became the university's archivist. He began to gather photographs and assembled several exhibitions chronicling Duquesne's history.
At the age of 77, Father Wersing traveled to Arusha, Tanzania, where he helped the diocese develop an archive so historians could better research the activities of Catholic missionaries. When he wasn't doing that, he was giving parishioners rides to Mass and buying them food.
No matter what his age, despite being nearly deaf and blind in one eye, Father Wersing was always interested in what was going on, what was happening, what he could learn, how he could help.
He retired when he was 83 but continued to live on campus because he loved being in the midst of the action. And there was always someone around to tell a story to.
He is survived by two sisters, Marian La Place and Margaret Wersing.
Visitation will be today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Spiritan Center, 6230 Brush Run Road, Bethel Park, where Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. tomorrow. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard