The pastor of St. James Basilica in Jamestown died Tuesday, Oct. 27, of complications from COVID-19, the Catholic Diocese of Fargo announced on its website Wednesday.
The diocese said Monsignor Jeffrey Wald, 56, died at Jamestown Regional Medical Center. Funeral arrangements are pending, the diocese said.
“Monsignor Wald was a kind shepherd and gifted speaker, a champion for Catholic education, and will be sorely missed by me, his brother priests, his parishioners and the faithful of the diocese who knew and loved him,” said Bishop John Folda of the Diocese of Fargo. “My prayers go out to his family, friends and parishioners at this tragic loss.”
There are about 1,200 families registered at the basilica, according to Paul Braun, director of communications for the Diocese of Fargo. The Revs. Paul Kuhn and John Aerts serve as parochial vicars at St. James Basilica.
“This is a huge loss for Jamestown,” Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich said. “Those are shoes that are going to be very, very difficult to fill. It’s just a shock and a tragedy.”
Wald was also the pastor at St. Mathias Church in Windsor and St. Margaret Mary Church in Buchanan.
Wald was born on Dec. 17, 1963, and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Fargo on June 6, 1992. He was named pastor of St. James Basilica and three other parishes on June 25, 2014, Braun said.
In addition to his most recent parishes, Wald served at parishes in Grand Forks, Fingal, Oriska, Crary, Devils Lake, Starkweather and Fargo, as well as at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo, the diocese said.
St. James Basilica owns and operates St. John's Academy, a Catholic elementary school that just celebrated the completion of a $6 million building addition project that Wald led.
"I think we're all stunned and hurting today," said Jeff Trumbauer, principal at St. John’s Academy. "Monsignor Wald absolutely loved Catholic education and in particular St. John’s Academy.”
He said the school building project was a major mission of Wald’s “and I'm thankful that he was able to see it completed.
“Monsignor had said repeatedly that in his most recent transfer from Holy Spirit Parish in Fargo to Jamestown when asked by the bishop what monsignor wanted, monsignor said, ‘I want a school,’” Trumbauer said. “He couldn’t imagine his priesthood without it. And it showed in everything that he did. He was over here every day. He did everything including .. build a $6 million building to ensure its success and to ensure that we would be able to continue to offer the academics, yes.
“Even more importantly to monsignor, it was about the faith, not just the faith of students that attend the school, of course, for their families too, drawing everyone affiliated with the school into a deeper relationship with Christ,” Trumbauer said.
The staff at the academy met Wednesday morning and the teachers shared Wald’s passing with students. Trumbauer said a counselor was on site to meet with anyone in need at the academy.
"He's going to be missed by many," Trumbauer said. “He left a legacy here. Over the last couple of months in conversations with the parish or committee members, or teachers or staff, he kept saying ‘It's pretty remarkable here in Jamestown, North Dakota, population 15,000, we built a $6 million addition to our school’ and he was proud of that, but not only because he was behind it but because it was a demonstration of how strong the faith here in our community is and the support of our school."
The Diocese of Fargo, in response to a question on whether it had any comment related to COVID-19 in communities, said, "The COVID-19 health crisis has led to extraordinary measures being taken throughout the world. As Catholics, we have a serious responsibility, not only in charity, but in justice, to prevent the spread of this disease to those who are most vulnerable. The Diocese of Fargo continues to abide by recommendations made by the North Dakota Department of Health and local health experts."