Father Bill was a towering presence. A dedicated priest who served for over 50 years before retiring, he was especially concerned for the poor, infirm, elderly, and home-bound. He was often involved in efforts for the food pantry at the Catholic church in San Mateo where he served. He had a special heart for children, and was always ready to help families with faith formation, because, according to one source, he felt “children needed to know God loved them.” None of this may strike you as extraordinary, of course. Nor should it. Many priests everywhere do such good work. However, there’s a certain story regarding Fr. Bill that’s fast becoming a legend around the Bay Area religious community circles “in the know.” We first heard the story a many years ago, and heard it again when he passed away. And now, after verifying the story with three sources, we feel it is possible, finally, to tell, here.
Father Bill was very pro-life, often counseling young women with their family choices. But he didn’t scare children with that message, and he didn’t appreciate people who did. He especially was annoyed by a certain van that was plastered with broken doll limbs and heads painted red, representing dead babies, whose owner had the habit of parking right in front of the parish school. This anti-abortion van also had hate-filled messages, and the children had to pass by it, daily, on their way to school. This, Fr. Bill felt, scared them. He asked the truck owner to move, and was rebuffed with “It’s a free country!” Eventually the conversations got heated, and they came to blows!
Yes, a local priest and an anti-abortion activist, in such a heated argument the local police were called. What a scene! This is not the sort of priests and anti-abortionists stories that one expects to hear. But it’s a wonderfully non-harming story, in its way. The priest was standing up for the little children, who had been shocked daily by the horrible truck. Bishop Desmond Tutu once famously said that, when you say “I am neutral” when you see an elephant about to crush a mouse, you’re siding with the elephant. The truck, in this case, can be seen as an elephant, crushing the daily experience of innocent children headed towards school. “Hate-mobiles” aren’t a good way to spread a message, in any case. No, they’re a sure way to close ears, hearts and minds to a cause you care about. In this case, Father Bill took action. He probably didn’t mean to get into an altercation. He probably just meant for the truck to leave. Well, he succeeded… leave it did. The kids were left in peace, to go to school without being terrorized by that “dead baby mobile.”
We will be reaching out to his parent church to find out if we can attribute his full name, and add further details. Meanwhile, everyone without exception to whom we convey this story feels “three cheers for Father Bill!” May he rest in blessed peace! Requiescat in pace! We love you, Father Bill !