NORWALK, Ohio - The Rev. Herbert J. Willman, a former pastor at St. Paul Church here and several Toledo churches who in his younger years used a boat and rode a folding bicycle to reach churches on Lake Erie islands to say Mass, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack at his home near Vanderbilt in northern Michigan. He was 72.
“He had unending energy and interest in people,” said the Rev. Jim Auth, pastor of Regina Coeli Church in Toledo. “He regularly visited people who were just lonely or needed help.”
An exceptional cook known for dishes he prepared in large cast-iron skillets, Father Willman sometimes took his own creations like fresh pies to those he counseled, Father Auth said.
At the same time, Father Willman assembled much more complex projects, like St. Paul's convocation center and gymnasium that were completed about 1992 for the parish's high and elementary schools.
“He got people to pay for them and the city to close off a street for it,” Father Auth said. “He had a tremendous ability at fund-raising and the skills to get people on board.”
Norm Barman, a member of St. Paul's and a contractor who helped supervise the $2 million project, said Father Willman was good at delegating responsibility.
“He wouldn't get real involved [in the construction details],” Mr. Barman said. “He found people who knew what they were doing and then stepped back and let them do it.”
Father Willman was pastor of St. Paul's for 12 years until his retirement in 2000.
Born in Attica, Ohio, he graduated in 1948 from Attica High School. Soon thereafter, he entered the seminary, attending Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus.
After his ordination in 1957, he was named associate pastor at St. Paul's, followed by assignments to Holy Angels Parish, Sandusky; St. Mary Parish, Vermilion, Ohio, and St. Patrick of Heatherdowns, Toledo.
In 1970, Father Willman was appointed to churches on Ohio's Kelley's Island, Put-In-Bay, Middle Bass, and North Bass islands. The posting meant he performed seven Masses each week over two days, which was always a challenge during inclement weather.
Two and a half years later, he was appointed pastor of Ss. Cyril & Methodius Church in Rossford. In the middle 1970s, he was director of the Toledo Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Commission.
From 1976 to 1988, he was pastor of Christ the King Church, Toledo. Besides overseeing the parish school, he organized an extensive remodeling of the church.
Throughout his priesthood, Father Willman was an instructor of confraternity of Christian doctrine classes for high school students who attended public schools. He retired about two years ago to live in Vanderbilt, where he accepted a joint pastorate to serve several churches north of Gaylord, Mich.
Surviving are his brothers, Thomas and Alfred, and sister, Eileen Ruffing.
Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Ss. Peter & Paul Church, Attica. The body will be in the Lindsey-Foos-Kocher Funeral Home, Attica, after 6 tonight.
The family requests tributes to Ss. Peter & Paul Church, Attica.