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Priest collapses while celebrating Mass, not expected to survive

The priest at two Tacoma Catholic churches collapsed while celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning from a brain bleed and is not expected to survive.

The Rev. Michael Wagner, 48, was celebrating the morning Mass at the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary when he fell to the ground with a ruptured cerebral aneurysm and he was taken to a Tacoma hospital, where he remains Wednesday night. Wagner has served as the priest administrator at Visitation Church and Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church since last June, said Thom Ryng, the liturgy director at Holy Rosary.

Holy Rosary held a prayer vigil in Wagner’s honor Tuesday night, which Ryng said filled the church at 520 S. 30th St.

“The impact on the community has been unbelievable,” Ryng said. “At the prayer vigil that we held last night, there were people walking around in a daze, just overcome with grief. He hasn’t even been here a year.

“He’s been here nine months and he’s made such a huge impact on people.”

The Rev. Michael Wagner
The Rev. Michael Wagner Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church Courtesy

Well-wishers are asked to contact their respective parishes for information about Wagner’s health status. No visitors apart from immediate family and Seattle Archdiocese officials are allowed to visit him.

Wagner (pronounced VAHG-ner), as a small boy in communist Poland, asked his mother if he could become a priest, but she said he couldn’t do that because of the country’s official policy of atheism. Nevertheless, his family maintained its faith.

“He was proud of that story,” said Laurie Halte, the parish secretary at Holy Rosary. “His family remained Catholic even though they weren’t allowed to be Catholic.”

He fled Poland in the mid-1980s at age 15 with his father, the rest of his family following close behind as they stayed in Rome for a brief time before settling in Seattle.

He was a latecomer to the priesthood, working in finance around the country before starting a coffee shop, Insomiax Coffee, in Seattle in 2002.

Wagner went to Rome for the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II, a national hero in Poland, which proved to be the inspiration he needed to join the priesthood through the Archdiocese of Seattle.

He attended the Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis., before being ordained at St. James Cathedral in Seattle in 2011. His first stop was at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Seattle, and he later served at St. Michael Parish in Olympia, and churches in Montesano and Elma before coming to the two Tacoma churches.

Outside the church, Wagner hiked and camped often and was an avid reader.

“He likes camping in the snow. He likes the rugged outdoor lifestyle,” Halte said. “He’s a contradiction sometimes -- not always what you’d expect.”

Wagner’s Holy Rosary biography ends with his favorite quotes, taken from his ordination card.

The first is a quote from British theologian G.K. Chesterton: "When people cease to believe in God, the danger is not that they will believe nothing, but rather that they will believe anything."

The second is his own.

“Mortal creature you are:

From eternity loved into existence,

By God;

Existence of love

Is called into eternity

With God.”

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