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Army vet taking Ripon parishs helm
Former general contractor-turned-priest now at St. Patricks
Father Jeff Wilson, shown in his office at St. Anthonys Church in Hughson, takes over as administrator at St. Patricks Church in Ripon this week. - photo by Photo Contributed

A US Army veteran and a former general contractor has taken over the helm at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Ripon.

Father Jeff Wilson, the associate pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in Hughson for the past year, has been named by Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton to be the administrator at the Ripon parish. He officially take over his post on Tuesday.

“I’m very saddened to say goodbye. People here are very supportive of their priests,” the Merced-born priest who was ordained just a year ago at the Cathedral in Stockton said about bidding adieu to the parishioners at St. Anthony’s in Hughson during a telephone interview on Friday.

“I made a lot of wonderful friends here,” he said of the people he has ministered to and served in the last 12 months. “I got to know them and love them very much.”

Father Wilson himself thought it was “real soon” just a year after his ordination to be charged with the huge responsibility of taking over the church’s administration, besides being the spiritual shepherd of the faithful in a parish that is made up of members from three communities – Ripon, Escalon, and Farmington. But Father Wilson’s age – he is 54 years old – plus his previous management and administration experiences as a lay person which received good reviews assured the bishop that the new priest would be “a very good candidate” for the challenging position at St. Patrick’s in Ripon.

“I am a late vocation,” Father Wilson said of his spiritual journey to the priesthood. That usually means one did not go to seminary soon after graduating from high school or college, but first spent years in the secular world pursuing advanced education or a career. Such was the case with Father Wilson.

He was born in Merced at Castle Air Force Base where his father, who was in the Air Force, was assigned at the time. He grew up in Lockeford and Stockton  in San Joaquin County, graduating from Lodi High School. He attended Delta College in Stockton for about a year, “then I just decided to work for my father doing carpentry.”

His father, who has since passed away, was a contractor as well. “That’s how I became a carpenter,” he said. “Then the recession hit in the 1980s, so I went in the military for three years of active duty in the Army.”

This was before the Persian Gulf wars in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan broke out. He served as a combat medic and was in Germany “during peace time; there was no war going on at that time.”

He was also assigned in Denver, Missouri, and Texas during his years in the military. After he got out of the service after three years, he went on reserve duty for three years.

While in the Army reserve, he went to Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo and obtained a degree in construction management after five years at the university. For the next 10 years after graduating from Cal Poly, he went and worked for a contractor building highrises. He was a member of the company’s engineering and management team in the Bay Area and in San Diego.

Then the company’s corporate headquarters on the East Coast filed for Chapter 11. He has just received his contractor’s license at that time, following his dream to be an independent businessman.

“I went back to my hometown area – Stockton – and I set up my business there with my step-brother,” Father Wilson said.

His late mother was ailing at that time, which was the other reason he went back to Stockton.

For the next five years, he was involved in custom building and remodeling. At one point, he and his father and brother were sometimes doing the same type of work.

It was around that time that he “got my call” to the priesthood. “The Holy Spirit was calling me,” he said.

But even prior to being touched by the Holy Spirit, Father Wilson has always been “very active in the church,” donating his time to the homeless shelters in San Diego, to the orphans in Tijuana, as well as singing with the choir at Mission Dolores in San Francisco. Also, while he was at Cal Poly, he was involved in the Newman Catholic Fellowship on campus. In Germany, while he was in the military, he was on the Pastoral Council for the American Catholics on the military base. Then, when he moved back to Stockton, he was involved at the Church of the Annunciation as sponsor for the RCIA program (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults), and serving in social justice ministries.

Father Wilson was ordained by Bishop Blaire at the Stockton Cathedral on June 4, 2011. The year before his ordination, as part of his seminary training, he served as a deacon for a year at the Sacred Heart Church in Patterson.

His parishioners at St. Anthony’s Church in Hughson are sad to see him leave, said parishioner Sonia Gonzalez.

“He’s very well liked. It’s sad to see him go,” said Ranier Ramirez.

Fr. Wilson is replacing Father Alex Pacheco who came out of retirement in mid-November when the bishop tapped him to serve as temporary administrator of the parish after former pastor, Father Peter Carota, left to go on sabbatical leave on Nov. 13. Father Pacheco’s last official day is Monday, Jan. 14, when he leaves for a two-month vacation for a reunion with family members in Goa whom he has not seen in years.