FATHER BILL ATKINSON
SERVANT OF GOD
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.