At the age of 86, Fr. Paul WIGHTMAN is still the pastor of five parishes in the mountainous region of Southern Missouri. A professed Oblate for 65 years and a priest for 60 years, he has also been an avid spelunker for many years. Recently, he was recognized for his work as the surveyor and explorer of the Fogelpole Cave System of Monroe Country, Illinois. The land above and around the cave has been purchased for preservation and, in honor of his work, it has been named the Paul Wightman Subterranean Nature Preserve.
Fogelpole Cave is the largest and most ecologically diverse cave in Illinois. The group that purchased the site (Clifftop NFP) hopes to protect the cave’s rare ecosystem which provides a habitat for several endangered species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
For many years, Fr. Paul was the bursar at St. Henry’s Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois. Many of the juniorate students assisted him in his explorations of Fogelpole Cave. As one former student stated: “I spent many hours in that cave and still enjoy spelunking today with my own kids.” .