“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.”
Birth: September 3, 1938
Profession: September 8, 1960
Ordination: June 9, 1967
Death: May 18, 2023
Father Joseph Gabriel Wambach was born in Englewood, New Jersey, on September 3, 1938. He was the only child of William and Cecilia (Nueffer) Wambach. The family made their home in Phoenix, Arizona, soon after Joseph was born. After attending St. Matthew’s Parish Grade School, he enrolled in St. Mary’s High School, graduating in 1956. Interested in becoming a priest, he began studies at Jordan Seminary in Menominee, Michigan, where he became acquainted with the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians), and he decided to join them. In 1959, he entered the Society’s Novitiate in Colfax, Iowa, where he made his profession of vows on September 8, 1960. He completed his college education at Divine Savior Seminary in Lanham, Maryland, and Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in 1962. During two “apostolic years,” he taught Latin and English at Mother of the Savior Seminary in Blackwood, New Jersey. He returned to Washington, DC, and continued studying at Catholic University. During the summer months, he took graduate courses at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During one of his years of study in DC, he also taught Religion at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Maryland. On June 9, 1967, he was ordained a priest in St. Francis Xavier Church in Phoenix, and then he returned to Washington, DC, for one more year of studies.
From 1968 to 1970, Fr. Joe ministered at St. Gregory Parish in Phoenix, and he also taught Religion at Bourgade Catholic High School and served as a chaplain at Arizona State Hospital. He took courses at Arizona State University in Tempe during that time as well. From 1970 to 1973, he lived with the Salvatorian Community at St. Mark’s Parish in Phoenix, and he ministered as chaplain at Maricopa County Hospital, at St. Luke’s Hospital, and at the Crippled Children’s Hospital in the city. He also ministered to men who were living in a local detention home.
But Father Joe was feeling the call to something else – to serve as a chaplain in the military during a time when this ministry was so badly needed. In late 1973, he enrolled at the Naval Ed. Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island. When his time there was completed, he embarked on a twenty-year long career as a military chaplain with the U.S. Navy, serving in places around the world like Guam, Okinawa Japan, Saudi Arabiand Marine bases in the States – in China Lake, CA; Mayport, FL; Gulfport, MS; Camp Pendleton, CA; San Diego, CA; and Portsmouth, VA.
When Fr. Joe retired from the U.S. Navy in 1993, he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. In later years, whenever he spoke about his time serving in the Navy, you could hear and feel the pride that Fr. Joe had about being able to serve our country in this way, and you knew the admiration he felt for those who defended freedom, both here and abroad.
Although retired from the military, Fr. Joe wasn’t ready to retire from active ministry. From 1993 to 1999, he served as Associate Pastor of St. Benedict’s Parish in Chandler, Arizona. During this time he also took a year-long sabbatical and continued studies in San Diego, California. He “semi-retired” in 1999, but if you looked at his schedule, you’d hardly know it! He helped out by celebrating Mass and the Sacraments at Holy Spirit Parish in Tempe, at St. Andrew’s Parish in Chandler, and at St. Steven’s Parish in Sun Lakes. He also made pastoral visits to homebound people, to patients in local hospitals, and to residents in nursing homes. He liked to stay busy, and he loved ministering to people!
In September 2022, his health needs were becoming more pressing, and Fr. Joe moved to a senior living facility in Chandler. In early May 2023, he suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. The following week he was brought to a rehabilitation facility, but his health didn’t seem to improve. He was placed in hospice care, and he died peacefully in the early morning hours of May 18, 2023, at the age of 84. He had returned to his baptismal name in the mid-1960’s when it was allowed, but for a time he was known by his religious name “Anton.”
Fr. Joe was preceded in death by his parents, William and Cecilia. He is survived by cousins Mary Agnes (Joseph) Coady and James (Mary) Dress, by his brothers and sisters in the Salvatorian Family, and by many friends and parishioners who were drawn to his gentle and quiet presence.
Donations can be made by going to www.salvatorians.com or can be sent to:
Society of the Divine Savior
1735 N Hi Mount Blvd
Milwaukee, WI 53208
God of power and mercy, you destroy war and put down earthly pride. Keep in your mercy those who serve in the cause of freedom, and when their time on earth is complete, bring them safely into your Kingdom of justice and peace. Amen.
(United States Catholic Conference – 2007)
Funeral Services: Holy Spirit Church – 1800 E. Libra Drive – Tempe, AZ
Rosary Vigil Service & Visitation: Tuesday, May 30, 2023 – 4:00 – 7:00 PM
Mass of Christian Burial: Wednesday, May 31, 2023 – 11:00 AM
(Reception to follow)
Burial in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia with full military honors at a later date.
Posey Moore Nash
How many blessings his life of service benefitted.
Vaya con Dios
Rev. Thomas Jay Hallsten
To Fr. Joe’s cousins Mary Agnes (Joseph) Coady and James (Mary) Dress, his brothers and sisters in the Salvatorian Family (whose warm hospitality I enjoyed in Rome), and to his many friends and parishioners, I offer the expression of my deepest sorrow. The Mass I offer this Sunday at the Church of Saint Joseph (Casco Viejo, Panamá) will be in thanksgiving for Fr. Joe’s life and ministries and for the repose of his soul.