Cardinal John Krol speaks with Father Augustin William Atkinson prior to his priestly ordination in 1974 (Archdiocese of Philadelphia Historical Research Center: Robert and Theresa Halvey Photograph Collection)

A historic Philadelphia priest and longtime Archdiocesan high school teacher will approach canonization next month in a ceremony at Villanova University.

Archbishop Nelson Pérez will chair the closing session of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in the diocesan phase of the cause for canonization of the Servant of God William E. Atkinson, a professed priest of the Order of St. Augustine – and best known to local devotees simply under the name of Father Bill. Atkinson.

The ceremony will take place on October 19 at 6.30 p.m. in the Church of St. Thomas of Villanova, located on the campus of the University of Villanova. Participation is open to the public, subject to the number of seats and the COVID-19 protocols in force at the university.

The event is the first significant step in an investigation that began in September 2015, when Archbishop Charles Chaput officially opened the cause for the canonization of Father Atkinson, the first quadriplegic ordained a Catholic priest and beloved faculty member. by Msgr. Bonner High School in Upper Darby.

Over the past six years, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has examined historical documents, heard testimony, and conducted related inquiries, all to gather morally certain evidence of Father Atkinson’s life of heroic virtue.

Together with local and international leaders of the Augustinian religious order, Archdiocesan officials will summarize these results at the October 19 session, and Archbishop Pérez will decree that the documentation be authenticated, sealed and handed over to the Vatican Congregation. for the sake of the saints.

And while the process of canonization still has a long way to go once the case reaches Rome, many in the Archdiocesan region are confident in the outcome – including Father Atkinson’s sister, Joan Mullen.

At a 2019 conference at St. Catherine’s Parish in Siena in Philadelphia, Mullen described his younger brother as someone whose compassion drew him to those in need.

Servant of God Father William E. Atkinson, OSA

“He loved people and he loved teaching Bonner,” his sister said. “He had the wonderful quality of being able to spot a teenager who was on the wrong track, who maybe had problems at home. This was the boy he would ask to help him or bring him back in time or maybe take him to the dentist. … I think he did it to give them confidence.

Father Atkinson’s own struggles enabled him to sympathize with others. Born in 1946, the popular and athletic former student of Bonner was paralyzed in a near-fatal tobogganing accident while still a novice Augustinian.

As family members gathered at his hospital bedside, Novice Director Father William Krupa received his profession of vows, later noting that future Father Atkinson “never uttered a single word of complaint or of self-pity ”despite great pain and“ frightening bedsores ”which developed. for six weeks of traction.

Mullen recalled that his brother first asked “why me?” But then accepted his disability.

“It was like, ‘This is what I have to do, and this is what I am going to do,” “she said. “He got away with it and I think it made him a better person. He was never pompous, just a regular guy and the same brother I had before. I do not know how to explain it.

With his failing health, Father Atkinson retired from Bonner in 2004, having served as a teacher, school assistant chaplain, football team moderator, and director of a detention program affectionately known as The “JUG” or “Justice under God”. He died in 2006 and is buried in the Augustinian section of Calvary Cemetery in West Conshohocken.

Along with the Archdiocesan Inquiry, a separate Rome-based inquiry examines Father Atkinson’s virtuous life and reputation for holiness. The efforts of the Archdiocese and the Vatican will also assess possible miracles attributed to Father Atkinson’s intercession, with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and ultimately Pope Francis making the final appeal regarding the outcome of the cause. .

In the meantime, those interested in learning more about Father Atkinson and supporting his cause through Father Bill Atkinson’s Guild can visit the official Augustinians website at www.augustinian.org/la-cause. Visitors to the site can also access the PBS 2020 documentary titled “Extraordinary: The Bill Atkinson Story”.