Fr. Celsus Wheeler, OFM
Fr. Celsus Wheeler, OFM, was born in Port Jefferson, N.Y., on Dec. 12, 1897. After attending St. Bonaventure’s High School and College in Allegany, N.Y., interrupted by military service during World War I, he entered the Province’s novitiate in 1922 at St. Bonaventure Friary, Paterson, N.J., professing temporary vows there one year later. In 1926, Fr. Celsus made his profession of solemn vows and was ordained a priest in 1927.
After teaching briefly at St. Joseph Seminary in Callicoon, Fr. Celsus returned to St. Bonaventure in 1929 as a member of the faculty and athletic director. He was guardian of the friary there when he resigned to become a chaplain in the Army Airs Corps during World War II. Returning to St. Bonaventure as guardian, he was eventually elected as the eighth Provincial Minister of Holy Name Province in 1952; he was re-elected in 1955, under the new constitutions of the Order, to a six year term.
Under Fr. Celsus’s leadership (1952-1961), Holy Name Province experienced a period of rapid expansion. The post-war vocation boom enabled him to strengthen its commitment to the missions in Brazil and Japan, as well as taking on new mission fields in Bolivia and Jamaica. In addition, he embarked on various new ministries within the U.S.- in Providence, R.I., New Bedford, Mass., Atlanta, Ga., and Triangle, Va., and oversaw construction of the new St. Anthony Shrine in Boston. Fr. Celsus’ profound influence extended beyond the Order, as one of the founders of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in the United States.
Upon completion of his term, Fr. Celsus went to Bolivia as superior of the Province’s mission, where he established a large central house and founded a boys’ high school. Declining health, however, forced his return to the United States in 1966, and he spent his final years at the Provincial infirmary at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.
He died at St. Bonaventure University on Jan. 26, 1972. Fr. Celsus was 74 years old, a professed friar for 48 years and a priest for 44 years.