In Memory of Rev. Dr. Philip Wahlberg Jr.
January 18, 1924 - May 9, 2021
Philip L. Wahlberg, Jr., retired bishop, died May 9, 2021, at age 97. He is survived by his wife of seventy-four years, Rachel Conrad Wahlberg, son Judge David Wahlberg, son Dr. Chris Wahlberg (Karin), daughter Pauli Gonsoulin RN (Mark), daughter Sharon Wahlberg, sister Marie Kleckley, sister Martha Eastwood (Bob), sister-in-law Kay Conrad plus six grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Philip L. Wahlberg, Sr. and Ella Swenson Wajlberg, brother Paul Wahlberg and his wife Beverly, and brother-in-law Voigt Kleckley.
Phil was born in Houston (January 18, 1924) and graduated from John H. Reagan High at age 16. He then graduated Valedictorian from Texas Lutheran College. He felt called into the ministry and moved to Hickory North Carolina to attend Lenoir Rhyne College. While there, he met Rachel Mary Conrad; they were part of the debate team. He graduated in 1944 as class president. He later received a Doctor of Divinity from Lenoir Rhyne and then graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina in 1946 at age 22. Two weeks later, he and Rachel were married. Two weeks after that, he was formally ordained as a minister and quickly was called to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Thunderbolt, GA. While there, he helped develop Redeemer Lutheran Church in nearby Wilmington Island, GA. In 1950, he accepted a call to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Corpus Christi. He helped grow that church from 100 members meeting in a small frame house to 650 members in a new church complex. In 1959, Phil was elected President of the Texas-Louisiana Synod of the United Lutheran Church of America and moved to Austin, the site of the synod offices. After a 1976 merger of two branches of the Lutheran church, he became the Bishop of the Lutheran Church of America for the LCA churches in Texas and Louisiana. As Bishop he was the religious and administrative leader for those churches. Under his leadership, 63 new congregations were established. He was most happy being the “pastor to the pastors.” In addition to his regional responsibilities, Bishop Wahlberg served on numerous national and international boards and committees and regularly traveled 100,000 miles a year doing the business of the church.
Throughout his career, Bishop Wahlberg was known as a hard-working (generally 50-60 hours per week) administrator who was well organized and progressive. As a preacher, he was simple and direct and was careful to communicate his message in concise and memorable ways. He retired as Bishop in 1985 but continued the work of the church for many more years.
The marriage of Phil and Rachel was a partnership of equals. They were best friends. His frequent responsibilities away from home proved the adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Their love for one another was obvious and constant. As former college debaters, they were used to arguing both sides of the issues but, as husband and wife, there were no disagreements because always listened to one another and reached joint decisions.
Phil was not only about the church. He played city league softball until age 50 but was most interested in golf. One of his retirement gifts was a golf cart and he played regularly until well into his 80’s. His barbeque was great and he got a lot pleasure from making mustang grape wine (“Bishop’s Best”) and giving it to friends.
Over the long period of his Alzheimer’s, stroke and heart problems, Phil was frequently moved with compassion for his faithful caregivers who ministered to him in endless, comforting ways.
The family request that any remembrances be made in contributions to Lutheran World Relief. Soli deo Gloria. “To God alone be the Glory.”
There will be a private burial service with the family. A public service of celebration of his life will be later this summer.
We remember Rev. Wahlberg's family in our prayers and trust that the promise of the Resurrection is true and sure.
Bishop Sue Briner