All Saints Parish service times

All Saints Catholic Church, 18674 Cherokee Drive, Twain Harte

Mass times: Daily Mondays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m.

Weekends: Saturday Vigil Mass, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday service, 11 a.m.

Confessions: Saturdays, 3:45 to 4:15 p.m.

St. Joseph Catholic Church, 18473 Gardner Ave., Tuolumne

Mass times: Fridays, 8:30 a.m.

Weekends: Sunday service, 9 a.m.

Confessions: Sundays, 8:30 a.m. (or by appointment)" class="auto" target="_blank">dir="ltr">

After a year on the job, Father Jeff Wilson has settled nicely into his role as pastor for the Parish of All Saints and Saint Joseph.

Wilson replaced Father John Fitzgerald, who led the congregation for 24 years before his retirement last January. The parish includes All Saints Catholic Church in Twain Harte and St. Joseph’s in Tuolumne.

Sitting comfortably at his desk in a pressed black suit with crisp white collar, Wilson reflected on the past year.

“It has been very good,” he said. “I’m fortunate and grateful to have Father John as a mentor.”

Despite feeling a closeness with the church since he was young, Wilson, 61, began his career with the church late in life.

Wilson grew up in Lockeford and graduated from Lodi High School in 1976. He attended Delta College for a while, then worked in carpentry before joining the Army in 1980. He served three years active duty as an Army corpsman medic and three years reserve.

After the service, Wilson returned to Delta College, then earned a Bachelor of Science degree in construction management from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He worked as a construction manager on high-rise projects in the Bay Area and San Diego, then as a general contractor for five years before entering the seminary.

“The church came to me, asked me ‘Jeff, have you ever thought of the priesthood.’ I said, ‘Not really.’ But I trusted God and loved God and believed in the teachings given to us through the church, and I wanted to continue to give my life to him … and be faithful.

“To me it seemed like a natural procession into the ministry as a priest. It came to me quickly, and I decided quickly because it seemed so right. … As a more mature man in my early 40s, it was an easy decision.”

He received his master’s degree in divinity from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park in spring 2011. He was ordained in June 2011 and went on to serve as pastor at St. Anthony’s in Hughson and St. Patrick’s in Ripon before moving to Twain Harte.

Having lived in the Central Valley and Bay Area all of his life, Wilson described the move as a bit of a culture shock.

Tuolumne County, he said, “was like the wilderness, where you go to have fun.”

The purchase of an all-wheel-drive vehicle and the kindness of local residents helped with his adjustment from big-city to small-town living.

“The people here are very nice, down to earth,” he said. “Definitely a slower pace.”

His congregation is also a bit smaller than he’s used to, with about 260 active parishioners between the two churches. Wilson said his intention as pastor is to increase those numbers.

“One of my goals here is to bring in our younger families back home to the faith,” Wilson said. He said he’s hoping to reach out to baptized Catholics who have become caught up in their busy lives and steer them back.

“I’m really trying to find ways to outreach to them,” Wilson said.

In the past year, Wilson has attended many local community events, including giving the opening prayer for Twain Harte’s popular Royal Flush Crapper Derby, and he built a new church float for the annual Twain Harte Christmas Parade, which won first prize in December.

Wilson has also met with representatives of non-denominational churches and local chaplaincies and has toured the homeless and women’s shelters.

“I’m trying to get to know the community and its services for the poor.”

In addition to giving weekly sermons at the two churches, weekly at Pinecrest during the summer months, and once a month at Sierra Conservation Center, Wilson’s duties include church administration and visiting families to officiating at weddings and funerals, counseling and giving last rites.

“The local priest is kind of a jack of all trades,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, although retired, now lives in a cabin next to All Saints Church and keeps busy filling in for Wilson and other priests whenever needed, often at churches in the valley.

Fitzgerald, looking relaxed in a red-and-black flannel shirt and warm overcoat, said that priests retire from pastoral duties but never from the priesthood.

“Old soldiers never die,” he said and laughed. “They simply fade away.”

Fitzgerald said he gets calls about once a week to fill in for a priest at another parish.

“But he’s the one who bears the burden and the worries,” he said, gesturing toward Wilson.

Despite those worries, Wilson said he feels right at home in Twain Harte.

“I’ve had the best of both worlds.”