Société des Missions Africaines –Province de Strasbourg

WERNERT Joseph né le 5 avril 1889 à Stützheim
dans le diocèse de Strasbourg, France
membre de la SMA le 15 juin 1923
prêtre le 12 juillet 1914
décédé le 26 octobre 1966

1914-1918 mobilisé
1918-1920 Dannemarie puis Krautergersheim, vicaire
1920-1926 Saint-Pierre puis Bischwiller, professeur
1926-1927 Lyon, étudiant à la faculté
1927-1930 Haguenau, professeur
1930-1932 missionnaire en Egypte, Tantah
1932-1935 Haguenau, professeur
1935-1966 missionnaire en Géorgie, USA

décédé à Tenafly, USA, le 26 octobre 1966,
à l'âge de 77 ans

Father Joseph Wernert (1889 - 1966)

Joseph Wernert was born in Stutzheim, Alsace, on April 15, 1889.
He died in Teaneck Nursing Home, NJ, USA, on October 26, 1966.

Joseph Wernert was one of a family of three children born to Andrew and Catherine (nee Uhlrich) Wernert. Joseph received his elementary schooling at Stutzheim (1895-1903). He then decided to prepare himself for a missionary vocation and entered Our Lady of Lourdes College, the Society’s Apostolic School at Keer, near Maastrict, in Holland. In 1908 he commenced his novitiate and philosophy course in the Society’s major seminary, at Cours Gambetta, Lyon. Joseph was received as a permanent member of the Society on June 15, 1912. He was ordained a priest in the seminary chapel at Lyon, on July 12, 1914, by Most Rev. Dr. Deschelette. Ordained with him on that day was Joseph Vogel who was later to serve in America.

Joseph served as an Auxiliary Army Chaplain for the Germans during the Great War. He was stationed mainly on the Russian front. At the cessation of hostilities and after a period of convalescence he began a period of eleven years during which he taught in the secondary colleges of the Society in Alsace (1920-1931). During these years he also acquired the equivalent of a Master’s Degree, although the university is unknown. Joseph commenced his teaching career in the Seminary of the Sacred Heart, at St. Pierre, near Eichhoffen. After two years he transferred to St. Joseph’s seminary at Bischwiller. With the erection of an Alsace Province of the Society in 1927 he was assigned to St. Arbogast’s seminary, in Haguenau, where there were over 100 pupils. Joseph taught most subjects well, including German, French, Latin, Greek and even Russian, but he excelled in teaching sacred music. In 1931 he was assigned to the Society’s missions in Egypt, where he taught in St. Louis College, in Tantah. This secondary school had almost 500 pupils and was one of the most prestigious educational establishments in Egypt. A year after coming to Egypt Joseph fell ill and returned to Europe where, after a period of convalescence, he rejoined the teaching staff at Haguenau.

Since the first decade of the 20th century the Society had missions among African-Americans in the Southern States of America. These were mainly staffed by Alsatians and had been pioneered by Ignace Lissner. Other missions had been founded by members of the Irish Province from 1921. During the 1930’s efforts were made to develop the American branch into a full Province of the Society. For this an increase in staff was essential to meet the increasing commitments of the Pro-Province. Fr. Lissner made frequent requests to Fr. Georges Brediger, the Alsace Provincial, for help. It was against this background that early in 1935 Joseph came to America. On arrival he was assigned to assist Edmond Schlecht in St. Odilia’s parish, Los Angeles. Situated in a poverty-stricken part of the city, St. Odilia’s had a lively Church community of some 600 Catholic members with a host of confraternities and societies, including three choirs. Joseph was to minister in this parish for the next three years. He was then posted as assistant to Joseph Vogel in the Society’s second parish in Los Angeles, named after St. Leo lX , which had been founded in 1936.

Joseph’s next assignment, given him in 1940, was to Immaculate Conception parish, Augusta, GA. This was one of the earliest of the SMA missions, founded by Fr. Lissner in 1908. Joseph assisted Adolph Gall, the pastor, but his main work was done in the high-school attached to the parish which had a complement of some 400 pupils. After the War, in 1947, Joseph went to Europe to visit his aged mother, staying in the SMA house at St. Pierre. His superiors in America gave him time to prolong his leave in order to allow him meet his sister, Sr Hilarian of the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, who was due home from the Gold Coast. While in St. Pierre administered a nearby parish for some 4 months. During this visit to Europe Joseph brought a camera to film his progress, in the hope that it might subsequently be used for ‘mission purposes’. The film which covered his travels (Paris-Lisieux-USA-Rome-Egypt-Palestine) was subsequently lost. A more successful venture was the acquisition of relics which might be of use in America. He brought a first-class relic of St. Theresa of Lisieux (obtained from her very sister) to Fr. John Sheehy who about to enthrone the devotion in the SMA house at Dedham MA. He also procured a major relic of Catherine Laboure for the devotion of the Miraculous Medal; a major relic of St. Rock for Rosary devotion; and finally a relic of St. Gabriel. It is said that his confreres in France were a little shocked by his film, but enjoyed his ‘slide shows’. These latter, given in many locations in France, covered the expenses for his film and cameras.

In 1954 Joseph was assigned to Province’s theological seminary in Washington, DC, where he served as professor and spiritual director. In 1959, in failing health, he came to the Province’s headquarters at Tenafly, NJ remaining there up to the time of his death. During his time in Tenafly Joseph assisted the Promotion Team and in his leisure moments acted as a private tutor in foreign languages, of which he knew many. He died of heart failure in Teaneck Nursing home.

He is buried in the SMA Community plot, in Mount Carmel’s cemetery, Tenafly, NJ, USA.