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Archives Father Wiley was ‘caring and genuine’

May 29, 2024

By Darcy Fargo

“My oldest daughter, Chrissy, said we could never have an article about (Father Leo A. Wiley) without mentioning his smile. It was forever on his face. We called him ‘smiley Wiley,’”said Marlene Dewey of Louisville.
Father Wiley died Tuesday, May 21, 2024, at St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg, where he had been a resident for several months. A complete obituary is below.

For Dewey and her husband, Walter, Father Wiley was like a member of the family, a relationship that began when Marlene Dewey was a high school freshman in Massena.

“He was my teacher,” she said. “Late that summer, both of my brothers voluntarily joined the (U.S. military),” she said. “It was the ‘60s, when most people who went in were being drafted. I remember going to the airport. I had never seen my mother cry that hard as she did on the car ride home when my brothers left for the service. When I started school, I remember telling Father Leo that I never saw my mother cry that hard as she did when they left. The next thing I know, he was there on my parents’ doorstep offering comfort.”

She said the experience changed how she felt about Father Wiley, who she described as “an ok teacher.”

“I thought, if a man can be that caring and genuine, I should listen to everything he says,” she said. “It must be true.”

As she became more familiar with Father Wiley, Dewey said she discovered truth was, in fact, something he valued.

“That was one of his biggest qualities – his honesty,” she said. “He was always about the truth. He was so honest about everything, and that was such a great lesson for me.”

Dewey said she later became preoccupied with finishing school, meeting her husband and starting a family, it was her husband, Walter, who helped bring Father Wiley back into her family.

“One day, Walt said, ‘I really need to meet this man,’” she said. “(Father Wiley) came to Massena and visited us. After a couple of times visiting, he sent us a thank you note saying, ‘I liked visiting you. There’s no ‘a priest is coming, a priest is coming.’ We were living in a farmhouse that was being renovated. The room he slept in wasn’t finished. The shower wasn’t hooked up yet. I didn’t know how to cook. I remember thinking, ‘God, I didn’t know I could please someone with all that.’”

After that, the Dewey family regularly visited Father Wiley, and he regularly visited them.

“He went here and there, and everywhere he went, we would go visit,” she said. “We became part of his family, and he became part of ours. “When he was in Lyon Mountain, we went to visit, and we stayed in the rectory. In the morning, we were awakened by Father Leo, who was so faithful in praying Morning Prayer. With that beautiful tenor voice he had, he started singing ‘Morning Has Broken.’ It was like 5:30 in the morning. We thought, yup. It has. Morning has broken.”

Over the years, Father Wiley continued to be a consistent presence in the Dewey family, being there for the celebration of sacraments for children and grandchildren, weddings, graduations and hard times, always offering encouragement, a listening ear and “a great sense of humor and a hardy laugh.”

“Walt just said, ‘he was always the same, never changing,’” Dewey relayed. “He was a rock. He was here for everything. He was our rock. There’s a scripture that says, ‘if you’ve found a friend, you’ve found a treasure.’ We always knew we had a treasure in him.”

Dewey said her husband also noted that they “never saw him exasperated; never saw him angry.”

In addition to being a consistent part of her family, Dewey said Father Wiley was “very close” to his biological family, regularly traveling with his sister, Margaret, and regularly visiting siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins.

“His sister, Margaret, often came with him when he visited,” she said. “She also became a good friend. He loved his family very much.”

Dewey noted that Father Wiley  had a  strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, and he regularly prayed the rosary and shared it with others. He also enjoyed traveling to shrines and oratories.

“And he loved the Mass,” she added. “Many times, he celebrated Mass in our home, in our daughter’s home. He was always ready to celebrate Mass. Even after he retired, he was celebrating Mass at the Motherhouse daily. We went to the Motherhouse several times for Mass there. He was so good to the sisters, and they were so good to him.”

Both Dewey and Father John M. “Mickey” Demo, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Watertown, where Father Wiley resided for several years after his retirement noted serving Mass at the Motherhouse wasn’t the only work Father Wiley continued well into his retirement years.

“He was a good listener for everybody,” Dewey said. “He often met with people who needed counsel or just needed someone to listen. He was a really good listener, and he helped so many people.”

“When he first retired, his concern for his brother priests was displayed in his availability to help,” added Father Demo. “He would cover weekend Masses for priests, so they could get away and get personal time. He was really good about making himself available. He was the chaplain for the Sisters of St. Joseph for several years. And when he was residing at the Holy Family rectory, he was the chaplain for the Legion of Mary here. They meet every Wednesday morning at 10, and he’d faithfully go over and be their chaplain and lead them in prayer.

He also continued providing spiritual direction, including spiritual direction for a couple priests. Spirituality was very important in his life as a priest, and he shared that with those he counseled.”

Father Demo also noted Father Wiley was especially devoted to the Divine Office, including that Morning Prayer that awakened the Dewey family all those years ago.

“He and Msgr. (Paul) Whitmore, when they both resided here at Holy Family rectory, they faithfully offered the Office together, even with regard to singing the opening hymns and offering spontaneous intercessions during the intercessory prayer,” he said.

Dewey noted that in the days leading up to Father Wiley’s death, she visited him along with Walt and their daughter, Kim.

“On the way home, my daughter, Kimberley, said, ‘Grandpa Leo was really happy today,” Dewey said. “It made me think, he was really happy today. On Sunday, it was his anniversary (of his ordination). He called us that day. He was so very happy. My daughter, Kim, when she learned he had passed, she was sad. But when she got through the crying time, she said, ‘no wonder he was so happy the other day. He knew he was going to heaven.’”

Dewey said she and her family are grateful to Father Demo and Father Matthew Conger, parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament Parish, who aided Father Wiley when they lived with him in Watertown.

“We want to tell (Father Demo), ‘job well done,’” she said. “He was so good to him. He was so happy. The young priests, the pastors are so busy, but they still took care of the older priests. And they always made us feel welcome and let us stay at their rectories. They made it all ok.”


Funeral Mass for Fr. Wiley will be June 4

A Mass of Christian Burial for Father Leo A. Wiley will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 4, at Holy Family Church, Watertown. Bishop Terry R. LaValley, Bishop of Ogdensburg, will be the principal celebrant and Father Timothy G. Canaan will be the homilist.

The reception of the body will be at 6 p.m. On June 3 at Holy Family Church. Calling hours will continue until Night Prayer at 8 p.m. Calling hours will resume at the church on Tuesday from 9:30 until 10:30 a.m.

Burial will be in the family plot in St. Vincent of Paul Cemetery in Cape Vincent.

Father Wiley, 93, of Watertown and formerly of Cape Vincent, died Tuesday morning, May 21, 2024, at St. Joseph’s Home, Ogdensburg, where he had been a resident for three months.

Born in Watertown on April 15, 1931, he was the son of William O. and Helen E. (O’Neill) Wiley. 

He was raised in Cape Vincent and graduated from Cape Vincent High School in 1948. He then attended Wadhams Hall before completing his studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ogdensburg on May 19, 1956, by Bishop Walter P. Kellenberg, the sixth Bishop of Ogdensburg.

After ordination, he was first assigned to St. Joseph’s Church in Malone, where he served as a parochial vicar for nearly three years. He later served in that role in St. Bernard’s Church in Saranac Lake, the Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist in Plattsburgh, Church of the Sacred Heart in Massena, and St. Mary’s Church in Clayton. In 1968, he was named pastor of St. Gabriel and St. Mary’s Church in Indian Lake. After that assignment, he served as administrator at Church of St. Philip and Jesus in Willsboro and St. Joseph’s Church in Essex. In 1975, he became pastor of St. Mary’s in Massena. He later served as pastor at Notre Dame Church in Ogdensburg, St. Bernard’s Church in Lyon Mountain and St. Stephen’s Church in Croghan, where he served until his retirement in 2006.

After his retirement, Father Wiley assisted the pastors of Alexandria Bay and Redwood and Adams and Henderson. He also celebrated daily Mass regularly at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

In addition to his parish assignments, Father Wiley served on the Senate of Priests, as Pro-Synodal Judge, as chair of the Diocesan Liturgy Committee, as Cursillo Spiritual Director and as Dean of the Lewis Deanery and aided at Marriage Encounter at various points in his ministry. He also taught courses in the Commissioned Lay Ministry program. 

His hobbies include reading and bridge.    

Father Wiley is survived by his brother priests of the Diocese of Ogdensburg; four nephews, Dennis, Michael, Kevin, and Bill Wiley; three nieces, Cathy Stull, Diane Bower, and Patti Caulfield; and numerous cousins, including Sister Janet Coseo, a Sister of St. Joseph, Sister Veronica Coseo, a Sister of St. Joseph, and Father Timothy Canaan, a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg. 

Along with his parents, he was predeceased by two brothers and their wives, Joseph and Mary Wiley, and William and Athalie Wiley; a sister, Margaret Wiley; an uncle Father Leo O’Neill, a Redemptorist Father; and cousins Father John Wiley and Sister May Louise Wiley, a Sister of Mercy.

Arrangements are entrusted with Cummings Funeral Service, Inc., Watertown and online condolences may be made at www.cummingsfuneral.com.  Donations in his name may be made to the Diocese of Ogdensburg Priest Retirement Fund, PO Box 369, Ogdensburg, NY 13669.

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