Msgr. John B. Wehrlen
Msgr. John B. Wehrlen

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated July 29 in St. Luke Parish, Toms River, for Msgr. John B. Wehrlen, who died July 24. He was 87.

During his ministry of more than 60 years, Msgr. Wehrlen – known to many as “Father Jack” – served in St. Philip’s Parish, Clifton; Holy Family Parish, Florham Park; and as chaplain of William Paterson University, Wayne. After retirement he moved to Ocean County, where he ministered in the parishes of St. Barnabas, Bayville, and St. Luke, Toms River.

Born on Sept. 3, 1934, in Paterson, he was the oldest of Margaret Nolan and John Wehrlen’s five children. He attended St. Joseph Parochial School, Paterson, and St. Peter Prep, Jersey City, before pursuing college classes in Seton Hall University, South Orange and Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington. He received a master of arts degree and an honorary doctorate in special education from William Paterson University, Wayne.

Father Wehrlen was ordained to the priesthood on May 23, 1959, by Bishop James A. McNulty at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Church, Paterson. In 1970, he was appointed the first director of the newly developed Department of Special Education for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, known today as the Department for Persons with Disabilities (DPD).

In the 1970s when few community services existed, Father Wehrlen helped to establish numerous innovative programs for those with developmental disabilities including several of the first group homes to be developed in New Jersey, which he supported throughout his lifetime. The Wehrlen House in West Milford is named in his honor.

In 1985, Father Wehrlen was named as the founding pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Flanders, and oversaw the construction of a new church that was dedicated in 1991. The parish flourished and grew to more than 1500 families during his 20-year pastorate.

On Oct 10, 1993, Father Wehrlen was bestowed the Papal Honor of Monsignor by Pope John Paul II.

Msgr. Wehrlen announced his retirement from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in 2005 and moved to Ocean County. He held many interests during his lifetime, including sailing, flying and driving classic cars. He enjoyed spending time with his extended family at weekly dinners and on vacation.

Msgr. Wehrlen is survived by his sister, Ann Wehrlen; his brothers Lawrence (Cozette) Wehrlen, Andrew (Deborah) Wehrlen; former sister-in-law, Judy Wehrlen, and their families: Jennifer and Jon Roth, Andrew Wehrlen, Catherine Wehrlen, Emma Wehrlen and Charles Wehrlen; and three grandnieces, Mia, Holly and Elliana. He was pre-deceased by his parents as well as his brother Charles (Claire) Wehrlen.

Interment was in St. Catharine’s Cemetery, Sea Girt. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his memory to: The Department for Persons with Disabilities (DPD), 1 Catholic Charities Way, Oak Ridge, NJ 07438, and designate “Fr. Wehrlen Memorial Fund,” or visit www.ccpaterson.org/frwehrlen.