Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate - Newsroom

Caveman _header

Fr ._Paul _WightmanIf you refer to Fr. Paul Wightman, O.M.I. as a
“caveman,” he would take it as a compliment.

For much of his life, Fr. Paul has been exploring cave systems in Illinois and Missouri. He began going underground as a teenager near his home in Waterloo, Illinois. He was one of the first explorers and surveyors of the Fogelpole Cave system in Monroe County. Recently, a preservation group
purchased the land above the cave and named it the Paul Wightman
Subterranean Nature Preserve.Caveman _outline

“It’s a little ironic they named it after me,” said Fr. Paul. “I know much more about what is under the ground there than what is on top of the ground.”

Fogelpole Cave was virtually unknown until Fr. Paul began exploring it in the 1940s. Most local residents didn’t even know there was a vast cave system under their land. The few people that did enter the cave turned around after a short distance.

Father Paul however pushed deep into the cave. Eventually he mapped about nine miles of the cave system.

Father Paul also got other Oblates involved in exploring the cave. He taught for 20 years at St. Henry’s Preparatory Seminary run by the Oblates in nearby Belleville, Illinois. “I was near enough to the cave to go there on weekends and free days with some of the seminarians,” said Fr. Paul. “I was hooked on caves.”

What Fr. Paul discovered was one of the largest and least disturbed cave systems in Illinois. Several miles of underground streams drain approximately 10,000 acres of sinkhole plains in southern Monroe County.

The cave supports a large and diverse animal population, including several bat species. The Indiana bat, a federally endangered species, has been found in the cave. A newly discovered species of beetle has only been found in Fogelpole Cave.

As Fr. Paul’s work with the Oblates changed, he continued exploring other caves in the Midwest. For about 30 years he ministered at parishes in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, and caves in the area were a second home.

Today, at the age of 86, Fr. Paul works at five parishes in southern Missouri.
He doesn’t go underground anymore. Instead, he works in the light, while
encouraging others to illuminate the darkness that lies below.