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Traveling priest has penchant for painting

The Rev. Bill Wiebler likens himself to the Magi from the time of Christ:"priests who wandered all over Europe."

Since he retired four years ago, the 68-year-old priest has traveled across the country, filling in for vacationing priests and enjoying one of his favorite pastimes: painting murals.

"I love the seasons and love to travel," he said. "I'm the only priest who goes to Canada for the winter and Florida for the summer."

Earlier this month, while substituting for the Rev. Robert Donlan at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Brooksville, Wiebler decided to paint the outside office walls at the Daystar Brooksville Center on Hope Hill Road.

The center, behind St. Anthony, was started by Jean and Chester Czyznik in 1983 under the auspices of Catholic Charities. Daystar now is sponsored by St. Anthony.

The mural on the front wall of the office depicts three kings and a shepherd following a star.

"Because Daystar is Christian in orientation, I thought this was appropriate," Wiebler explained.

The side wall shows silhouettes of an office worker, a cat, a family of four, and Madonna and child. Wiebler said he wanted to include something about the family because Daystar serves families' needs.

Wiebler said his murals take on a life of their own.

The back wall depicts an elderly man with a cane sitting on a bench. A bright red bull's-eye with an arrow has been painted around the doorknob. "I got my inspiration for this from (a photo in) the St. Petersburg Times," Wiebler said.

The murals were dedicated to Conrad Weber, Daystar's former director, who died about a month ago.

Wiebler said he has a creative spirit and always wanted to paint, but never thought he could until he attended an art class shortly before he retired.

"The teacher put me in front of a canvas and said, "Paint something,' and I did," Wiebler said. "If you have someone who has confidence in you, you can do anything.

"Anybody can paint. It's a great hobby for a retired person. You can do it at your leisure _ get up at 4 a.m. It's such a creative outlet."

The late bloomer said he has painted in 12 states and Canada. He said he gets his assignments by "word of mouth."

"I have been a pastor (at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bettendorf, Iowa, for 10 years), a teacher (at St. Ambrose Academy in Davenport, Iowa, and Marquette University in Milwaukee) and an editor (at Sacred Heart Southern Missions in Walls, Miss.). I love being able to travel."

Wiebler also works as a chaplain for Royal Caribbean and Cunard cruise lines. He takes to the sea about twice a year.

Wiebler, who has filled in for Donlan at St. Anthony for four years, describes himself as Daystar's resident artist and says he loves to barter. He has painted in hotels for lodging, and in Canada he painted windows in coffeehouses for coffee and doughnuts.

Donlan describes Wiebler as "a fascinating character. Father Bill's the kind of guy who'll go into a barbershop and barter to paint windows (for his haircut)."

In addition to his work at Daystar, Wiebler has painted the bathroom windows in the rectory and colored flowers on small windows in the confessional and sacristy at St. Anthony. In return, he says, "St. Anthony has been good to me. I haven't bought clothes in the last five years."

Besides his ability to barter, Wiebler knows how to scavenge. He uses unusual objects as canvases, including wooden table tops, doors and windows.

Wiebler's love of travel is fulfilled in part by annual Christmas trips to New York to attend Broadway shows and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When asked where he would like to visit next, Wiebler replied without hesitation: "I would like to be chaplain on a cruise ship to Alaska. I want to see those icebergs sticking out of the water."

Wiebler also enjoys taking classes at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where tuition is free for senior citizens.

Through the years, the native Iowan said, he has learned there is no limit to God's generosity.

"Don't say you need this or that to be happy," Wiebler said. "Like this gift of painting _ I can't believe how it enhances my retirement. It's nice to have something to get up for."