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A St. Louis priest who developed his preaching style with help from standup comics and television evangelists has been named the recipient of the 2006 Great Preacher Award.

Fr. Dale Wunderlich, pastor at Christ Prince of Peace Church in Manchester, was chosen from more than 65 nominees. He will receive the award at Christ Prince of Peace on Sunday, Oct. 22. The event begins with vespers, or evening prayer, at 5 p.m. The reception and awards presentation follows at the parish school.

Wunderlich was ordained in 1974. That first year as a priest, a conversation he had with two young people left a profound impact. The young people hadn’t been attentive, and Wunderlich approached them. “I said to them, ‘You don’t seem to be too interested in what is going on here,’ to which they replied, referring to the presider, ‘He doesn’t seem to be too interested. Why should we?’”

Wunderlich realized then the “paramount importance” of liturgy done well, conscientious presiding and the value of good preaching. That’s when he began to look for effective preachers and communicators. He found one in a local Baptist minister whose sermons were on radio and TV, and eventually other television evangelists. He also learned something from “Evenings at the Improv,” a show featuring comedians in front of live audiences.

“Perhaps part of their effectiveness and attraction is that comedians can see the lighter side of truth without a jaundiced eye,” Wunderlich said. “Not a bad goal for anyone in ministry.”

Thus began the ascent from good preacher to great preacher for Wunderlich. In his 33-year career, the priest has served as administrator and chief executive officer at Duschesne High School (1983-1992), director of spiritual life and worship at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary (1993-2005), spiritual director at Kenrick-Glennon (1993-1995), and pastor at Epiphany of our Lord Church in St. Louis (1995-2004). He became pastor at Christ Prince of Peace in July 2004.

Interest in copies of his homilies has led to a book—Manna, An Invitation, a collection of years of preachings that Wunderlich taped at the prompting of a parishioner, who transcribed them for the book. They contain words delivered to high school women, parish communities, vowed religious women and priesthood candidates.

“Fr. Dale is truly an agent of Christ in all that he does and all that he preaches,” wrote Tom and Lisa Marshall in a letter nominating Wunderlich. “He is gifted at incorporating humor, firmness and Biblical history into his sermons. As a listener, you are entertained, challenged and inspired to become closer to the Lord.”

Aquinas Institute of Theology is a Roman Catholic seminary and graduate school for vowed religious women and laypeople in Midtown St. Louis. The school is sponsored by the Dominicans. Central to its mission is to educate students to powerfully preach the Gospel. It presents the Great Preacher Award each year to call attention to the importance of preaching. The honor is bestowed upon a priest who has strengthened the Catholic community and transformed lives through his words. Wunderlich is the 12th recipient of the award. For the first time this year, Aquinas Institute will hold the awards presentation at the recipient’s parish, which is an attempt to allow parish communities to more fully celebrate with their honoree.

For information about tickets to the reception and awards presentation, or to request an invitation, please call Dodie Nelke at 314.256.8857.

Aquinas Institute will award the Catherine of Siena Excellence in Lay Ministry Award as part of commencement ceremonies in May.

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