For 54 years, Father Fidelis Weber has walked the halls of Conwell-Egan (formerly Bishop Egan) High School in Fairless Hills. While the name and location of the school has changed over the decades, Father Fidelis, teacher of English, Spanish and religion, and director of the guidance office, has remained a constant.
The Third Order Regular Franciscan reflected on his long career at the school and his role in the lives of his students, past and present.
Taped to a window beside his desk is a collage of pictures featuring young people at various stages in their lives: a bride and groom, a baby being baptized, a group of friends linked arm in arm while smiling at the camera. All those faces reflect the life journeys of those who learned from Father Fidelis or took advantage of his guidance while mapping out their futures.
“I still hear from fellows I taught when I was first ordained,” the priest said as he glossed over a letter from a guy he taught in 1957. It wasn’t the first “thank-you-for-all-you-have-done” message he’s received, but it’s just as precious to him as all the others, he said.
For today’s young flock, he demonstrates his sense of humor and conveys some basic truths sans the benefit of social media. Posted instead on the wall behind his chair are two missives on white notepaper: “Pray now or pay later,” and “God loves you. I’m trying.”
Father Fidelis said he enjoys the privilege God has given him to help kids find their place in life.
“A high school is a good place for a priest to be,” he said. “You help kids make plans; you help them through crises. And you help reinforce the meaning of faith in their lives.”
The always challenging task of overcoming some teenagers’ resistance to practicing their religion is more difficult than it was in the past because fewer parents are setting the example by taking their families to Sunday Mass, he said.
“The decline has to do with the way religion is presented,” the priest said. “Before the (Second) Vatican Council, I did see a legalized, cold view of God. I liked the council’s emphasis on God-as-love, but as a result, we’ve gotten away from the idea of sin.”
Add that to today’s society, which focuses on consumerism and entertainment, and you have a recipe for spiritual estrangement. When young people tell him that Mass is “boring,” he reminds that that it is not meant as entertainment, but as a worship service.
Father Fidelis, now 83 years old, grew up in Great Neck, Long Island, and attended public school until he reluctantly — because of his parents’ insistence — enrolled in St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa.
He started with accounting courses and briefly entertained a career in mechanics, but after World War II there were only 20,000 jobs for 60,000 people, mostly returning military personnel.
During that time, a priest at the college talked to him about a religious vocation. “I did a lot of searching and a lot of praying,” he said. “In my sophomore year, I literally moved across the road to the seminary.”
Over the years, he obtained a pilot’s license and spent free time flying small planes. A train aficionado, he still occasionally volunteers as a brakeman on the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad, and has done the same at the Steamtown Historic Park in Steamtown, Pa.
Declaring that “Franciscans don’t retire,” Father Fidelis said he plans to stay put, doing his best to keep young people focused and faithful.