<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> In Memoriam William K. Leahy ARCC
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In Memoriam William K. Leahy
Link to 1968 Commonweal article by Arlene Anderson Swidler
William K. Leahy
May 27, 1935 - January 2, 1999
By Anthony Massimini
Let us celebrate the life of Bill Leahy, who was a good man, a good friend and brother, a good father and loving grandfather, and a good priest of Jesus Christ. Let us celebrate him who was both an image of Christ, especially in his compassionate ministry to the poor and outcast, and an image of Job, to whom much was given, from whom much was taken away, and to whom much was restored. Job asked, Oh, would that my words were written down. Would that they were inscribed in a record. Today I want to recount and record Bill's life, as well as celebrate it. 

Bill was a good man. We simply have to say that he was an outstanding example of the exceedingly good and fine young men who entered the seminary to honor and serve Christ as his ordained ministers. Bill, for being a good man, may you be blessed forever. 

Bill was a good friend and brother. I put the two together because Bill put them together. To John, Maryanne and Edna, whom we call Mike, he was a beloved blood brother and friend. To the rest of us, he was friend and brother, always ready to serve us whenever we had a need. Bill, for being a good friend and brother, may you be blessed forever. 

Bill was a good father and a loving grandfather. For those who don't know, about 25 years ago, Bill was asked to take a young, homeless boy into his home for a week or so. Bill came to adopt David as his own son, whom he loved with his whole heart. Through many very difficult circumstances, Bill always ran out of his house to pick David up, embrace him and give him a party of a new start in life. Bill, for being a good father and a loving grandfather, may you be blessed forever. 

Bill was a good priest of Jesus Christ. Here especially, Bill's life needs to be recounted and recorded. When he entered St. Charles Seminary, he was only 16--just out of his sophomore year at St. Tommy More High School--brilliant, brash, and obviously full of glorious promise. After excelling academically at St. Charles, he was sent to study Theology in Rome. Again, he excelled academically. After ordination, he was sent back to Rome to study Scripture. It was 1961. Only 18 years earlier, in 1943, Pope Pius XII had permitted the Catholic Church to study the Scriptures the way the Jews and Protestants had been studying them. The church, fearful of the modern world, had condemned any accommodation to it, including the modern study of Scripture. When Bill arrived at the Jesuits' Biblical Institute, the school was in tumult. The Vatican authorities were waging war against the new biblical studies and two of Bill's professors were fired for teaching what is totally accepted today. Bill saw that a great struggle was being born in the church, and he got involved in it. He was pulled even deeper into the struggle when he was assigned to be a secretary at the upcoming Second Vatican Council. 

Then something happened that became a critical point in Bill's life. A few months before the opening of the Council, then Archbishop, and later Cardinal, John Krol came to Rome and took Bill with him for a personal visit with Pope John XXIII. The pope asked Bill what he was studying and when Bill said, Scripture, the pope's eyes immediately became sad, to the point where he was almost crying. "Be careful!" he said sadly. "Oh, what are they teaching you? They are taking away Adam and Eve. Next they will take away the nativity scene and the Wise Men. What shall we teach the people? What shall happen to the children?" Bill recognized that the pope's advisors were presenting the new Scripture studies to him in a way that was upsetting and frightening him. When they left the pope's study, Archbishop Krol said strongly, "Did you hear what the Holy Father said? I don't want you teaching any of those things." Bill asked himself, "How can I not accept the new insights I am being taught? How will I be able to teach the truth against the opposition of my archbishop and even the pope himself!?" For three months, Bill struggled with these questions in his heart, mind and soul. 

Then the council opened, and on the first day, Bill was in St. Peter's to hear the pope say that every day, he had to listen to persons who were not endowed with too much sense of discretion. In these modern times, John continued, these persons could see nothing but prevarication and ruin. Bill recognized that the pope was speaking about his advisors and about their fear of the modern world and modern studies--a fear that they had imposed upon the pope himself. But then, John went on to say that he disagreed with these prophets of gloom. Bill was exultant. The pope had changed. The Spirit had opened a window in Pope John's soul, just as the pope would open a window to the Spirit for the entire church. It was all right for Bill to teach what he was studying. It was all right to dream of the renewed church that John wanted to create. There was a new way to understand Scripture, a new way to understand the church, a new way to understand the world and the human person. It was all right to teach this new understanding. 

Bill plunged ever more joyfully into his Scripture studies. Being as brilliant as he was, he even went to the Dominican University and at the same time, attained a Doctorate in Theology--an almost impossible task. Earlier, under Jesuit Bernard Lonergon, he had taken some advanced studies in philosophy and theological method. At the council, he kept track of all the speeches, and saw the final documents developing step by step. When the American bishops wanted to speak, they would give outlines to Bill and he would write their speeches in Latin. A day or so later at the council, he would then record speeches that he himself had written. 

Inspired by Pope John's remarks and filled with idealism, Bill befriended the theologians at the council who were presenting the church with their new ideas. They were men like Hans Kung, Raymond Brown, John Courtney Murray, Cardinal Bea, who headed the ecumenical movement, and Cardinal Lienart of France, who used the council to throw out the curia's list of committee members and to choose their own committee members--a move that opened the council to all the new ideas that, in the end, the Spirit of Christ moved it to promulgate. He was on fire with the spirit of the council and the Spirit of Christ. 

Every day at the council, he took the day's speeches, translated them into English, wrote summaries, mimeographed them, and then got on his motor scooter and distributed them to the English speaking bishops all around Rome. There were no limits to this brilliant young man's talents, dreams and energy. 

Completely immersed in the counsel, he saw that it had been called not merely to change the liturgy, but to change the entire church. On the one hand, he saw the new teachings developing; but on the other hand, he saw church officials getting Pope Paul VI to insert the old teachings alongside the new ones. In Bill's presence, Vatican officials said they were waiting for the bishops to go home so they could take back the church. He saw that there would be two voices in the church, the voice of retrenchment and the voice of renewal. He chose to be a voice of renewal. 

He saw the new church be born and he believed in it. With Vatican II, --he believed that the church is the people of God, who are, as a body, consecrated into a holy priesthood that does not conflict with the ordained priesthood. --he believed that the whole church cannot err in matters of belief when, from the bishops to the laity, it shows universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. He determined that when he returned home, he would help the people discern their belief--what we call the sensus fidelium--so they could present their beliefs to the magisterium for authoritative expression. 

He knew that the church could change its teachings, as it had done in the past in such matters as slavery, usury and celibacy. In the council, he saw the church do a 180 degree turn in the matter of respecting the world and learning from it, and in the matters of ecumenism and religious freedom. 

Very especially, being a scripture scholar, he knew well that the thing that bothered Jesus most was the bitter fact that the poor of his day were being oppressed. With Jesus and with the Council, Bill believed that as a priest he had a special obligation toward the poor, and that included the marginalized and the outcast. 

When the council ended, he prepared to return home to help build the new church. He was warned not to do this. But let's sum up who he was--a brilliant, idealistic, young priest, who had a licentiate in Scripture, a doctorate in theology, advanced studies in philosophy and theological method, an active friendship with the church's leading progressive theologians, an extremely thorough experience and understanding of the Second Vatican Council, and a fierce determination to build the new church and minister with unswerving compassion to the poor and outcast--and he was just coming out of his 20's! Truly he was as blessed as Job. 

He was assigned to Philadelphia's St. Charles Seminary and began teaching about the renewed church. In a short time, however, he was fired from the faculty with the words, "Your idea of the church is not the same as ours." A professor at a Catholic college asked him to fill in for a term, but he was immediately stopped by the authorities there. Once he stepped officially out of bounds and was temporarily suspended. That over, he began speaking about the church renewal in public to whoever would listen to him. He was followed by Catholic hecklers, who disrupted his talks, mocked him and even cursed him. Like Job, he became "the sport of his neighbors...a laughing stock." A religious superior referred to him as, "not a priest." His life as an outcast had begun. 

Loneliness and depression became his companions, and he slipped into an alcohol induced darkness. The church placed him under suspension, a status he lived with until his death. Like Job he could say, "When I looked for the good, evil came; when I expected light, then came darkness...days of affliction have overtaken me." In those years, also like Job, he did not abandon God, and God certainly did not abandon him. One day, our doorbell rang. My wife answered it and there stood Bill, smiling. He kissed Mary and then turned to me, "It's me," he said, "Resurrexi! I have arisen!..." Beginning in 1975, he stopped drinking. Newly alive, he opened his heart ever wider to dear friends who loved him then, and love him still. 

He went to work for a hospital, and being Bill Leahy, he was soon promoted to a high administrative position. But he was not happy. So he simply quit. Another hospital offered him $85,000 to come to work for them. But that was not him. He refused. Poor and outcast himself, he turned the full force of his priestly compassion to ministering to the poor and outcast of today--the homeless, the addicted, the divorced, people with AIDS, women, gays and lesbians. Bill opened his compassionate heart and loving reconciliation to all of them. He called his ministry the Church of Reconciliation. Reconciliation--a perfect word for him and his intentions. In his December newsletter, he rejoiced that last year, through his ministry, seven homeless/addicted persons re-established themselves. He is wrong. If we count the spiritually homeless whom Bill touched and reconciled, the number is 70 times seven. 

He served a term as President of the Federation of Christian Ministries, and he worked with his dear friend, Anthony Padovano, President of CORPUS, the organization working for the full restoration of the married priesthood in the Western church--a restoration that has already begun. He was active in Call To Action, the movement for renewal that includes nuns, priests and bishops, but which also includes members in one diocese who were excommunicated, simply for being members. More outcasts to identify with. 

Throughout it all, reconciliation was always on his mind and in his heart. For a long time, he kept in close touch with Cardinal Krol, struggling mightily with him in the impossible challenge of achieving official reconciliation. Both men did all they could, but their worlds were too far apart. So Bill continued his own ministry. For him to have done otherwise would be for him to have compromised his integrity. He would not have achieved the humility, compassion, a deep spirituality of suffering, dear family and friends--these are the gifts that, in the end, God bestowed on Bill, just as in the end, God bestowed gifts upon Job. Bill, for being a good priest of Jesus Christ, may you be blessed forever. 

You have finally found reconciliation I the loving arms of Christ. From there, I know that you are praying for us to heal the divisions that separate members of the one church from one another. You are praying for us to open the church to the fullness of truth and love. You are praying for us to find ever more compassion for the poor and outcast. 

In your December newsletter, you prayed for us, "Happy Christmas and a Blessed New Year! May all the riches of Christ Incarnate, the Word made flesh, be yours each day and forever." Bill, now it's our turn to pray for you. May those same riches also be yours. May our friend and brother, priest and Savior, Jesus Christ, hold you close in his arms and give you peace. May he lead you into the universal community of love that was our deepest dream. And may he bless you, now and forever. Amen. 

Given at the Church of the Annunciation BVM, Havertown, PA, January 6, 1999, 
by Anthony T. Massimini 2541 Haven Avenue Ocean City, NJ 08226-2434 
Email: Tonymary@worldnet.att.net 
The Married Roman Catholic Priest Mailing List: citi-l-request@sparklist.com 
The Married Roman Catholic Priest Web Site: http://www.rentapriest.com/ 


In Memoriam of Father William Leahy
By Father Jim Mallon
A most insightful portrayal of Bill Leahy's animus has already been recorded by a visceral critic. E. Michael Jones in his biography of Cardinal Krol refers to Bill quite often. At face value Jones presents Bill in less than favorable terms. However he has highlighted some basic personality characteristics which anyone who drew close to Bill would recognize as standard Bill Leahy. Perspective dominates perception, and what Jones sees as flaws the renewal communities will hail as virtues. Essentially Bill did not change over the years he just grew and developed. 

Particularly, Bill's audience with John XXIII which Cardinal Krol had arranged and which Jones preserves for us highlights characteristics which prevailed throughout Bill's life. Roles, titles and personages did not unduly influence him. He respected authority but would not allow it to dominate his ministry. He listened attentively but would not be persuaded easily. He greatly esteemed friendship and loyalty but spoke with conviction and directness the truth as he perceived it. Just months after ordination alone in the presence of Pope and his ecclesiastical superior Bill openly, clearly and without equivocation revealed his commitment to the spirit of Vatican II. 

Bill's adherence to the Council's teachings cost him greatly. But he would most vehemently protest that his own flawed nature and his own human weaknesses also contributed greatly to the darker moments is his life. No one but God can apportion correctly the share which grace and sin play in one's sanctification but it results mostly certainly from the struggle between both. 

Bill constantly cautioned me to choose wisely in which battles to engage. Let's recognize that as a legacy he leaves to all anxious for Church renewal. Unity was another ideal Bill cherished and advocated, inner unity and subsidiarity for each group, intergroup unity and solidarity for the renewal community itself. 

One final word born out of my own sorrowing over these last few days, let us express how important we are each to the other before death shuts off the opportunity. 


Other voices

Another Voice

Questions From a Ewe

Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

ARCC/VATICAN2 Web-Site Editor: Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: facshaferi@mercur.usao.edu or ihs@ionet.net
Posted 23 February 1999
Last updated 23 February 1999
Copyright © 1999 Ingrid H. Shafer
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