FATHER BILL ATKINSON

AUGUSTINIAN FRIAR
1946-2006
SERVANT OF GOD

William E. Atkinson, O.S.A.

William E. Atkinson, O.S.A.

On a quiet night in the middle of August, 2014, a group of twenty-five invited guests gathered at Saint Augustine Friary in Villanova, to meet with the Augustinian Postulator General and me. The agenda was simple, if unusual! Fr. Josef Sciberras had come from Rome for an informal conversation with friars and laity, relatives, friends and confreres of Fr. Bill Atkinson, to determine whether or not this friar might be someday, a future canonized saint of the Church.

Fr. Josef offered a challenge to those gathered: “Convince me that Fr. Bill lived a life of heroic virtue. Persuade me that he is a saint.” One after another, individuals told the stories of their relationship with Fr. Bill and made their case for his character, his virtue, his fidelity, his ministry, his humor, his humility, and much more. By evening’s end, Fr. Josef acknowledged that he was convinced. If canonization were only that easy! But it signaled the beginning. 

The month of September, 2015, saw the official opening of the Cause of Canonization of Fr. Bill Atkinson, O.S.A., with the presentation of the formal request to begin the process, made to Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia. 

In the afternoon of September 15th, the very anniversary of Fr. Bill’s death in 2006, the Postulator General of the Augustinian Order, Fr. Josef Sciberras, and I, met for thirty minutes with the Archbishop at his office, to present the necessary documents, including a brief biography of Fr. Bill’s life, the credentials of the Postulator General and a letter of request for the Cause to be opened. The first stage of the process takes place in the diocese in which the candidate died, which, in the case of Fr. Bill, is the same diocese in which he was born and lived almost his entire life.

Archbishop Chaput, despite his intense schedule in the days leading up to the celebration of the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis, received us most cordially and conversed with us about Fr. Bill and the steps of the canonization process, indicating his great pleasure in accepting the Order’s request and doing what he could to further the process.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affirms the pursuit of Father Bill's Cause:

Baltimore, Maryland: November 17, 2015 at 4:20 P.M., Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia introduced the question of the Cause of Bill Atkinson to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and encouraged the approval of the Cause by the bishops. He spoke of the timeliness of Fr. Bill's witness especially as a quadraplegic, offering encouragement to others in similar situations, and to the religious community and family of Fr. Bill for their care of him: “William Atkinson’s cause will be a beautiful one, because it would be a source of encouragement for people with this kind of accident in their life, this kind of disability, but also reminds us of the great generosity of his family and his [Augustinian] religious community; they were all called to holiness by their special care for this man. I think he will fit very beautifully into the niche of the communion of saints as a very special patron.”

Assent of the assembly was requested by the president of the USCCB and it was unanimous. 

 

 

The Father Bill Atkinson Guild

The Guild will coordinate all promotional activities associated with the Cause, and will operate under the sponsorship and direction of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova. 

The task before friars, relatives, and friends of Fr. Bill, is to spread the word, to promote awareness, and to gather information that can assist the Cause. We invite those who knew Father Bill, or who benefited from his ministry, or were touched by his example, to send their remembrances, testimony or notice of favors received to the address indicated below.

 

A Secondary role of the Guild is to collect funds in support of the Cause. The Guild will be responsible for covering the operating costs incurred from the production and distribution of promotional materials, as well as those attached to the canonical requirements, such as the publication of an authorized biography, the printing of documents and the work of the Postulator General's Office.

To become a member of the Guild, please submit the form below. You will receive a document of enrollment and will receive correspondence on the progress of the Cause. There is no enrollment fee.

All correspondence regarding Fr. Bill and the Cause, requests for holy cards and donations should be directed to:

Fr. Bill’s Cause
Augustinian Provincial Offices
P.O. Box 340
Villanova, pa 19085

 

Father Bill Atkinson Guild Enrollment Form

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Father Bill Atkinson Guild

BIOGRAPHY

William Edward Atkinson was born on January 4, 1946, in Philadelphia, one of three sons and four daughters of Allen Atkinson and Mary Connelly. He attended St. Alice’s Elementary School and Monsignor Bonner High School, and upon graduation, asked to join the Augustinian Order. He spent a year as a postulant at Augustinian Academy, Staten Island, New York, and then entered the Villanova Province’s novitiate of Our Mother of Good Counsel in New Hamburg, New York, on September 6, 1964.

Father Bill's Ordination February 2, 1974

Picture courtesy Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center. Robert and Theresa Halvey Photograph Collection. 

The following February 22, 1965, while recreating with several other novices on the novitiate grounds, the toboggan in which he was riding hit a tree, leaving Bill almost completely paralyzed from the neck down. Amazingly, he survived the accident, and following extensive rehabilitation, expressed his desire to continue as an Augustinian. He began again his novitiate year at Villanova, professing simple vows on July 20, 1970, and solemn vows on July 20, 1973. A care team of friars assisted Bill during his time in formation, and for many years beyond, as he moved about with the use of a motorized wheelchair. Bill completed his years of college and theological studies at Villanova, and with a special dispensation from Pope Paul VI, John Cardinal Krol ordained him to the priesthood at his hometown parish of St. Alice in Upper Darby, Pa., on February 2, 1974, almost nine years after the accident that left him a quadriplegic. He celebrated his first Mass at the Fieldhouse of Villanova University.

From 1975 until 2004, almost thirty years, Fr. Bill was stationed at St. Joseph's Friary, where he taught at Msgr. Bonner High School, was assistant school chaplain, senior class retreat coordinator, moderator of the football team, and the director of the after-school and Saturday detention program. He was known for his wonderful sense of humor, and was recognized as an excellent teacher, encouraging moderator, and compassionate confessor. Fr. Bill was the recipient of many awards and acknowledgements, among them an honorary doctorate from Villanova University in 2000.

In 2004, Fr. Bill moved to the Health Care Unit of Saint Thomas Monastery at Villanova University. He passed over to the Lord on Friday afternoon, September 15, 2006, surrounded by those who loved and cared for him. His funeral liturgy was celebrated on Tuesday, September, 19, 2006 in Saint Thomas Church, Villanova University, after several hours of visitation. Fr. Bill was buried the following morning in the Augustinian section of Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken, Pa.

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