Sonora priest, wife killed in car crash near Hollister

11/28/2012 1:28 PM

11/28/2012 8:30 PM

The Rev. Wolfgang Krismanits, pastor of the Red Church in downtown Sonora, and his wife, LaDonn "Doni" Krismanits, were killed Tuesday near Hollister in a car accident. He was 60. She would have been 52 Thursday.

According to a California Highway Patrol officer, a car ran a red light and hit the Krismanitses' sedan, pushing them under a tractor-trailer. Wolfgang Krismanits was pronounced dead at the scene at Highway 156 and San Felipe Road; his wife was pronounced dead a short time later at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital. The CHP said both were wearing seat belts.

Krismanits was born in Austria and came to this country as a 5-month-old. "Father Wolf," as he generally was known, became rector at St. James Anglican Church in 1989. He was a passionate Anglican who helped lead the San Joaquin Diocese away from the more theologically liberal Episcopal Church. He had a heart for the homeless and poor in Sonora and worked with other pastors to establish Lighthouse Ministries to feed and help those in need.

In a letter dated Oct. 20 on the church's Web site (www.redchurchsonora.com), Krismanits said he had been told that he was suffering from congestive heart failure rather than the previously diagnosed pneumonia. "It was concluded that I should have surgery on my heart as soon as possible, replacing a badly damaged valve that was a result of a bout with rheumatic fever that almost took my life as a young child," he wrote.

Coming back from appointment

"One of our parishioners knew an expert in that field down in Monterey, and he had heart surgery there in late October," said Robert Townley, senior warden at St. James. "He was doing fine. He had to go back for an appointment with his surgeon (Tuesday). They were driving home when it happened. We are all in shock."

"I can't believe it," said the Rev. Tom Foster, retired pastor of Jesus Our Savior Anglican Church in Modesto. "He was a real, true, loyal friend. He was very enthusiastic, very whimsical in a lot of ways. He will be sorely missed."

Foster said Doni Krismanits was at one time a competitive tennis player and had suffered from lupus for many years. She contracted Lyme disease a few years ago, Townley said.

"(Her husband) was very proud of her achievements," Foster said.

The Rev. Eric Menees, bishop of the San Joaquin Anglican Diocese, had known Krismanits only for a year. "They are going to be missed so greatly," Menees said. "What a lovely ministerial couple and a witness to the church and community of Christ's love. His dedication to the people of St. James and especially to the poor and the lost in Sonora is such an inspiration."

Menees said he especially grieves for the Krismanits children. "I can't imagine the pain of not only losing your father to a sudden accident, but to lose both your father and mother," he said.

The Rev. Michael McClenaghan of Wellspring Anglican Church in Modesto said he heard about Wolfgang Krismanits' death when he got an e-mail from Menees on Wednesday morning. "The very first thing I thought is that he had a heart attack," he said. "This came out of absolutely nowhere. It's just unbelievable."

He said he and Krismanits were far closer than fellow priests — they were good friends. "Wolf was fun to be around," McClenaghan said. "He had a real heart for God and for people. The ministry up there, his relationship with pastors from other denominations, shows that. He was a Christian first and an Anglican second. He just loved the Lord and his family."

In a 2008 interview with The Bee, Krismanits said he had enjoyed working at a ranch for neglected, abused and abandoned children earlier in his career, and his greatest passion was establishing a ministry for the poor and homeless in Sonora with eight other pastors.

Besides his work as an Anglican priest, Krismanits in May published a fantasy adventure novel, "The Seven Scrolls: Sword of Pantok." He told The Bee in August that he recently had delivered the concluding sequel, "The Seven Scrolls: Pantok's Key," to the publisher and that it should be out in the spring.

The couple are survived by four children: Paul Krismanits, 29, of Redding; Sonja Heisinger, 24, of Texas; and Stephen, 27, and Summer Krismanits, 15, both of Sonora.

In his open letter to his parishioners on the church Web site, Krismanits wrote about his heart disease: "I am convinced that the timing of this has been orchestrated by God ahead of time, who in his great wisdom arranged for all of my children to descend on Sonora for the weekend, including my newest granddaughter, Courage Anna Claire Krismanits, born on October 10. ... What a joy it is to have such a wonderful God!"

A community memorial service will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at an as-yet undetermined church in Sonora or Twain Harte. A 10:30 a.m. Sunday service at St. James, which seats only 140 people, will be a traditional Anglican memorial service led by Menees. For more information, call St. James at (209) 532-7644.

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at snowicki@modbee.com or (209) 578-2012.

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