Retired Prison Chaplain Dies at 82 in Florida

Father Wilkinson
Father Wilkinson

A Mass of Christian Burial for Father John H. Wilkinson, 82, a senior priest of the diocese, was celebrated Nov. 30 in the chapel at Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston. He died Nov. 23 in Venice, Florida, where he was living in retirement.

Born in Brooklyn, he was baptized in Queen of All Saints Church, Fort Greene, and attended Cathedral College, and Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, L.I. He was ordained May 30, 1959 by Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart at St. James Pro-Cathedral, Downtown Brooklyn.

He served as an assistant at St. Teresa’s parish, Sterling Pl., Crown Heights, 1959-69, and was administrator of St. Leonard’s, Bushwick, 1969-77.

In 1978, he was assigned as chaplain to the Queens House of Detention, with residence at St. Brigid’s Rectory, Bushwick.

He earned his doctorate in philosophy from St. John’s University, Jamaica.

From 2002 to 2004, he was a parochial vicar at St. Brigid’s. He retired in 2004.

Father Wilkinson also served as an alternate on the Diocesan Priests’ Senate, 1968, and as secretary for the Association of Brooklyn Clergy, 1969.

Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez was the main celebrant of the funeral Mass. He was joined at the altar by Fathers Frank Passenant, Edmund Brady and Charles Keeney. Msgr. James Kelly preached the homily.

“His ministry as a prison chaplain was dedicated and generous,” recalled Msgr. Kelly. “A friend to the incarcerated, he was a trusted counselor and buddy of the correction officers. He was even a union delegate at one time. But he was always a pastoral priest to all his flock. He was a Brooklyn aficionado, a native son.”

He also pointed out that Father Wilkinson was a Scripture scholar and during his years living at St. Brigid’s, he conducted weekly seminars on Sacred Scripture.

“He had a master’s in counseling from Iona, which enhanced his prison ministry,” added Msgr. Kelly. “He had a penchant for animals – German Shepherds, not Irish Wolfhounds. When he moved to Florida, he was able to resume his relationship with his canine companions. At St Brigid’s, no animals allowed!”

He concluded: “He was not morose about death, the finality of life, but he realized that it is part of life. Death is inevitable and so he faced reality by preparing these funeral rites. Would that we all had his courage and his faith in preparing for our departure from this vale of tears. Nothing became his life more honestly than his leaving us. May he rest in peace.”

There were no immediate survivors. Burial was in St. John’s Cemetery, Middle Village.