Vincentian Father Walter Reisinger grew up in St. Louis but felt right at home among his Pulaski County parishioners.
“He poured out his life in service of his people,” said Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos. “He gave of himself, right until the end.”
Fr. Reisinger, 91 — who served as pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Dixon from 1982-2013 and also of St. Cornelius Parish in Crocker from 1992-2013 — died on Nov. 14 at the Apostle of Charity Residence at St. Mary of the Barrens in Perryville.
“‘Fr. Wally’ was a classic Vincentian,” said Bishop Gaydos. “He was going to do whatever was required to assist God’s people, in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.”
Bishop Gaydos went to Perryville last summer to visit friends from his seminary days.
Fr. Reisinger gave him the grand tour.
“Unassuming and simple, kind and funny, that was Fr. Wally,” Bishop Gaydos recalled.
Learning to teach
Friends say Fr. Reisinger’s Catholic upbringing and the Great Depression helped define his entire life.
He was born on Feb. 4, 1929, in St. Louis, the second of three children born to Nicholas and Reabel Reisinger.
“His Catholic education, from his first day of school through graduate studies, formed him into the man and priest he was to become,” his friends stated.
He entered priestly formation at St. Louis Preparatory Seminary, where he was taught by priests of the Congregation of the Missions, also known as the Vincentian Fathers.
Founded by St. Vincent de Paul to help and teach the poor in rural France, the Vincentians later became known in the United States for their seminary work — at one time educating most of the priests who were ordained west of the Mississippi River.
“They were good priests and very good teachers,” Fr. Reisinger said of the Vincentians.
He decided to join them, entering their novitiate at St. Mary of the Barrens in Perryville, on May 18, 1946.
He completed the novitiate in 1948 and continued his philosophy and theology studies there.
On May 29, 1959, Auxiliary Bishop Leo Byrne of St. Louis, future archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, ordained him to the Holy Priesthood.
Teaching to learn
Fr. Reisinger taught at St. Francis Seminary in Bethany, Oklahoma, for three years, then for a year at St. John’s Seminary, Kansas City.
As a member of the faculty of St. Louis Prep Seminary high school from 1959-62, he taught many future priests of the St. Louis archdiocese, including Bishop Gaydos.
“He taught us typing, and he taught us chemistry,” Bishop Gaydos recently recalled.
Fr. Reisinger once quipped: “If I knew he was going to be my bishop someday, I would have given him better grades back in high school.”
“You must have passed me; they didn’t throw me out,” Bishop Gaydos replied.
Fr. Reisinger concurrently completed a master’s degree in education before joining the St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary faculty as a professor of math and science.
Assigned to teach calculus without ever having studied it, he signed up for a course at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, and taught as he learned.
He also ministered at St. Joseph Parish in Highland.
He moved into full-time parish work in 1972 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Perryville, first as associate pastor, then as pastor.
American Vincentians started branching out after the Second Vatican Council. One plan called for sending small groups of Vincentian priests to rural areas to live in community and minister in nearby parishes.
Through an agreement with Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, of Jefferson City, now deceased, such a community was to be established at Dixon.
Fr. Reisinger wanted to serve in a country parish, so he asked to be a part of that mission.
He got his wish, “and I’ve been very happy here,” he stated years later.
Plans originally called for a Vincentian brother who was an expert on farming to be sent to Dixon to advise local farmers, “but there’s really no farming in Dixon,” said Fr. Reisinger.
He brought a Vincentian tradition to the Dixon parish when he arrived: a necrology, or “prayer for those who have gone before us.”
“The parents, spouses and children put the names of their departed loved ones on a list, and on the anniversary of their death, we read their names before the Mass,” he once told The Catholic Missourian.
“On Nov. 2, the Feast of All Souls, we read the whole list.”
Fr. Reisinger asked for permission for his mother to live with him so he could take care of her. He did so until she died on July 6, 1998.
“The people bent over backward to be kind to her, and I thank them for that,” he said.
He saw himself as a pastor and a teacher, committed to his parishioners’ spiritual growth, knowledge of Christ and understanding of the faith.
He was fond of saying: “An informed Catholic is a good Catholic.”
He once wrote to ask the Vincentian provincial for permission to buy a new car, stating that his current car was becoming a “little unreliable.”
It had 177,000 miles on it.
A prayerful character
At 84, Fr. Reisinger returned to St. Mary of the Barrens as a senior confrere in residence.
“I’m especially going to miss the people,” he stated upon leaving Crocker and Dixon.
Convinced that God always has a plan and that there’s no such thing as luck or chance, asked for prayers for patience.
“Everything happens for a reason, but God doesn’t tell us the reason,” he stated in 2013.
“Pray for me to have the faith to see the will of God in my life and the courage and wisdom to accept it, especially as I get older and weaker.”
Fr. Reisinger spent the next seven years in the Vincentian Apostolate of Prayer, praying for benefactors and for the mission of the Congregation.
He loved going fishing at the seminary lake, and just as often could be found clearing brush, trees and shrubs from the lake property — beautifying the lake he loved.
He also walked around the grounds, collecting black walnuts from the seminary grounds, selling them in town and donating the money to the poor.
“Without a doubt, he was one of the characters of the congregation,” stated Vincentian Father Patrick McDevitt, provincial director of the Vincentian Western U.S. Province.
The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Nov. 20 in the chapel at St. Mary of the Barrens in Perryville.
“We gather to celebrate Fr. Walter’s life and to mourn his death, and to thank God for the love he brought into the lives of those he touched, and for his friendship and his faith,” Fr. McDevitt stated.
A livestream recording of Fr. Reisinger’s Funeral Mass can be found at: