August 18, 2017

Priest celebrating 50 years of ministry seen as ‘anchor’ of New Albany Deanery

Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day celebrates Mass on May 5 at St. John the Baptist Church in Starlight to mark the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Concelebrating the Mass are retired Msgr. Paul Richart, left, Father Eric Johnson and Father Thomas Clegg. Father Day is pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight and dean of the New Albany Deanery. (Submitted photo by Paul Bierman)

Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day celebrates Mass on May 5 at St. John the Baptist Church in Starlight to mark the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Concelebrating the Mass are retired Msgr. Paul Richart, left, Father Eric Johnson and Father Thomas Clegg. Father Day is pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight and dean of the New Albany Deanery. (Submitted photo by Paul Bierman)

By Sean Gallagher

For 38 of his 50 years of priestly life and ministry, Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day has ministered in a host of parishes in the New Albany Deanery and at Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville.

Born and raised in St. Mary Parish in Lanesville in the deanery, it might seem fitting that Father Day has ministered for so many years in the southern region of the archdiocese.

According to him, it didn’t come about through a master plan, but just by being asked on various occasions to serve there.

“I was simply asked, ‘Would you be willing to do that?’ And I said, ‘Sure,’ ” said Father Day, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight and dean of the New Albany Deanery.

Maybe his long history of service in the deanery is the work of the Holy Spirit. Father Day certainly has discerned its influence in his priestly ministry through the years.

“I’m convinced that there are no coincidences,” he said. “How many times have I been available, hanging around the house a little longer than I intended, and got a call that I needed to get, such as somebody needing the sacraments?

“The Holy Spirit is in charge. Whenever I can surrender to that, I’m the priest I’m called to be.”

Merle Kruer has had the chance to appreciate Father Day’s ministry during two periods of the priest’s 50 years of service.

A lifelong member of St. John the Baptist, Kruer, 75, was there when Father Day served as its administrator from 1971-75 and since 2010, when he was appointed its pastor.

“He gets along with everybody,” says Kruer. “He’s like everybody, he’s got his opinions. But then he listens to the rest of the people. If they’ve got a different idea, he considers it.”

Not only does Father Day get along with everybody, it seems to Kruer that he knows everybody in the deanery.

“He knows the area,” said Kruer. “He knows the people. He knows what they do. He knows how the community is, how they interact.”

Father Daniel Atkins, pastor of Holy Family Parish in New Albany, is a friend of Father Day and has witnessed his friend’s close ties to the deanery on many occasions.

“We’ll be sitting in a restaurant and people will come up and say hello,” said Father Atkins. “They just know him. So many people know him, know his family. He’s helped so many people here. He’s an anchor. He really is.”

According to Father Atkins, his friend is to the faithful in the deanery the “uncle that everybody just loves and knows. You can talk with him. He knows the family stories.”

Father Atkins knows this from experience. He was a teacher at Providence when Father Day was on the faculty there. Their relationship led Father Atkins to pursue a vocation to the priesthood.

“It was being drawn into friendship with him that really gave me the courage to trust him and confide in him,” said Father Atkins, who was ordained in 1987. “I had thought about the priesthood before. Then it resurfaced again. I asked him about it. He gave me the push that I needed.”

In addition to nurturing close ties with the lay faithful of the New Albany Deanery, Father Day has also fostered a strong brotherhood among the priests serving there, arranging weekly meals with them on Saturday evenings and Monday mornings.

“That will be a great legacy that he will leave us,” Father Atkins said. “We’re proud of the New Albany Deanery. The priests who come into the deanery are welcomed. And I think they feel that sense of welcome right away.”

Father Day has also done much to support Catholic education in the deanery, says Joan Hurley, who served as Providence’s president from 2004‑16.

She noted his long service on Providence’s board of trustees and his efforts to promote two capital campaigns at the Clarksville school.

“I can’t put into words how valuable Father Sonny is for Providence,” Hurley said. “He lives his Catholic faith so well. And Catholic education for him is a backbone for that for any family. He talks that story, and he walks that story the whole time.”

When asked what advice he would give to men beginning to discern a possible call to the priesthood, Father Day says it is a vocation that leads to happiness.

“If you feel called, try to discern that with a vocations director and go to the seminary,” he said. “God doesn’t call you to something that’s going to make you unhappy. God wants you to be happy and fulfilled in this life and certainly in the next. If he’s called you to the priesthood, you will find happiness and fulfillment there.”

He has certainly experienced both in his 50 years of priestly life and ministry.

“I don’t know how I could be happier,” Father Day said. “It’s because of the people who have come into my life. That’s one thing about the priesthood—you’re surrounded by people all the time. Some are coming to you for help. But so many are coming just to love you, support you and thank you for being their priest.”

(To learn more about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit HearGodsCall.com.)


More about Father Wilfred “Sonny” Day

  • Age: 76
  • Parents: The late Wilfred L. and Marie Day
  • Home Parish: St. Mary Parish in Lanesville
  • Nickname: “When my mother named me Wilfred, she said, ‘We’ll call him “Sonny.” ’ ”
  • High School: Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville
  • Seminary: The former St. Mary Seminary in St. Mary, Ky.; Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad
  • Favorite Scripture passage: Isaiah 55
  • Favorite saints: St. Teresa of Calcutta; St. John XXIII
  • Favorite prayer or devotion: Praying for his fellow priests
  • Hobbies: Walking and hiking

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