1820 – 1875 (March 28)
William Harnett, son of Patrick Harnett and Joan Walok, was born in Saint Augustine Parish, Philadelphia, Penssylvania. It is commonly accepted that he was born and baptized on December 17, 1820. He received his early education from a parishioner, Miss Mary Lloyd. By the time William was sixteen, his parents had died and he lived with the friars at Saint Augustine Friary, as a student. He was the third native born American to enter the Order. While en route to Europe, to continue his studies, his luggage was either stolen or lost along with his vital records. A dispensation was granted on the strength of an oath that his baptism and confirmation records existed. On November 27, 1837, he was vested as a novice at Genazzano, Italy. The time lapse between requesting and obtaining the dispensation added two months to William's novitiate. On February 2, 1839, he was professed and began his philosophy course at San Lorenzo, the General Professorium, in Recanati. He studied theology in Rome, and was ordained a subdeacon in 1843. That same year he returned to the United States and became a member of the first faculty at Villanova College. He had a limited teaching schedule since he still had to complete his theology studies. On June 1, 1844, he received diaconate from Bishop Francis Kenrick of Philadelphia, who, on September 21, 1844, also ordained him to the priesthood at Saint John’s Church, Philadelphia.
On April 28, 1847, Father John O'Dwyer, O.S.A. wrote, "On Easter Monday I appointed Fr. Harnett Prior at Villanova." At that time Father Harnett became president of Villanova College. On May 18, 1848, Father Harnett was appointed novice master and later, temporary commissary general for about a year.
In 1857, he received an assignment to Our Mother of Consolation parish in Chestnut Hill, Pa., where he remained for the next nine years. In September, 1867, he was appointed sub-prior to the community at Saint Mary's Parish, Lawrence, Massachusetts. At that time a second church was being built. Father Harnett assisted Bishop John J. Williams at the dedication of St. Mary's Church, on September 3, 1871.
Father Arthur J. Ennis, O.S.A., described in his publication, No Easy Road. The Augustinians in the United States, the talents with which Father William Harnett was blessed. Father Ennis wrote, "As a youngster, Harnett proved to be the ideal student - alert, intelligent, industrious, and malleable - so much so that his Italian Augustinian instructors, called him 'the American Angel'. He absorbed so well the education they offered him that he came to be recognized as a learned and able teacher and, especially, a competent speaker and pulpit orator…. He neither sought nor enjoyed the spotlight, and although he was several times chosen for a role of leadership, he was a retiring man who much preferred to work quietly behind the scenes."
Father William Harnett died in the friary at Saint Mary's on Easter Sunday evening, March 28, 1875, at the age of 55. The previous day he had heard confessions for nine hours, and during the night suffered a heart attack. A second attack later that night was fatal.
The funeral mass was celebrated by Father Ambrose A. Mullen, O.S.A., the second pastor of St. Mary's. The homily was delivered by Bishop-elect, Thomas Galberry, O.S.A. Interment took place at Saint Mary's Cemetery, Lawrence, Massachusetts.