The Rev. Mark Woodruff has been a landmark priest in Odessa’s religious history, overseeing a series of major construction projects at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, and now at 74 he is going into semi-retirement.
Father Woodruff stepped down Thursday from senior pastor to sacramental minister, but he will still be regularly saying Mass and hearing confessions in support of the new senior pastor, the Rev. Giuseppe “Joe” Barbieri, who had served as parochial administrator since last fall.
In addition to a $6.2-million expansion opened in July 2018, Woodruff also helped preside over building the picturesque 7601 N. Grandview Ave. church’s youth center and its parish pavilion for athletic and social events. “We recognized the enormous growth within the parish with eight apartment complexes and 3,000 to 4,000 new houses in Parks Bell Ranch, 87th Street between 52nd Street and Yukon Road and the area around Eastridge Road,” he said.
“Looking back, I’m proud of what was built. I had tremendous assistance from the building committee, parish council and finance council.”
Woodruff is a native of Westfield, N.J., who served four years in San Jose, Calif., till being assigned to Odessa 25 years ago.
Inspired by his uncle, the late Rev. Stephen B. Early, he said, “Father Stephen was a very dedicated preacher and that was a great example to make the most of the preaching ministry.”
Known as a gifted preacher himself, Woodruff said, “You hope to make the presence of God very real in people’s lives by giving them something that will help them live their Christian vocation in a more authentic way.”
Asked if he would want to work in any other parish after investing so much in this one, he said, “I would be willing to go anywhere I’m needed, but I think I am still needed at St. Elizabeth Ann.
“If Bishop Sis ever sent another priest here, I would look for a way of serving in another place where I might be needed.”
Along with continuing his service with Father Joe, the Rev. Johnny Aldas, the youth minister and religious education coordinator, and Deacons Gary Brooks, Jose Gallegos and Sal Primera, Woodruff will volunteer two or three days at week at Catholic Charities.
“Catholic Charities is my second love,” he said. “They were really needed during the COVID times and bad economy. They used to serve 800 people per month with their food pantry and now it’s over 3,000.”
Woodruff’s uncle was a Jesuit and he could have joined that order of teachers, but he chose the parish priesthood for its nearness “to people at the most basic level,” he said.
“A parish priest is like a general practitioner,” he said. “Other priests are more specialized. I could have gone elsewhere, but there was never a convenient time because we were most always planning, constructing or paying for a building.”
Bishop Sis said St. Elizabeth Ann Seton “is now one of the largest Catholic churches in West Texas.
“The youth ministry center is excellent, showing the parish’s strong commitment to minister to our young people,” he said. “When we started the new Holy Cross Catholic High School for the Permian Basin, they needed facilities. Father Woodruff graciously made available a set of classrooms at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and this helped the school to get started. They would not have been able to get off the ground without his generous support and enthusiastic welcome.”
Holy Cross is now having classes at The Way Retreat Center east of Midland at 4014 N. County Road.
“Father Woodruff’s role on the Catholic Charities board has been extremely valuable,” Sis said. “When their building was severely damaged by the hail storm a few years ago, he provided key leadership to help manage that crisis.
“After the shooting incident in Odessa on Aug. 31, 2019, he dedicated a large outdoor cross to the memory of all the victims. That has become a meaningful memorial place that is visited by the people of Odessa, regardless of their church affiliation.”