RENEW International - Home   RENEW International - Blog   RENEW International - Shop   RENEW International - Donate   RENEW International - Request Info
Search

 
 

Ministry on the Margins: Msgr. Bill Wall


FrWallThe human population is evolving into two categories: those who lived before and those who live during the digital age.
 
Those who lived before have at least one disadvantage: they’re more easily forgotten.
 
A case in point arose recently when I did a Google search on Monsignor William Wall.
 
I met Monsignor Wall when I was about twelve years old and was an altar server at my parish church.
 
In those days, we altar servers knelt on the altar step while the celebrant conducted the liturgy with his back to us.
 
The rubrics called for the celebrant to genuflect multiple times during the Mass, and the first time I saw Monsignor Wall genuflect was also the first time I saw khaki pants and sneakers emerge from under the cassock and alb.
 
It was the mid 1950s, and I had never seen a priest arrive for Sunday Mass in anything but black clerical garb.
 
I learned that his mode of dress wasn’t the only thing unconventional about Monsignor Wall.
 
He was a tough customer with a no-nonsense attitude and a blunt vocabulary.
 
He would often pause during Mass to direct a death stare at someone in the church who was disruptive or inattentive.
 
One Sunday he stopped in the middle of his homily and asked the chatty choir members if they thought they could preach better than he could.
 
Another Sunday, he froze during the final blessing with his hand raised in the air and asked the ushers in back of the church, “Will the standing army of Christ please kneel?”
 
More important, he was the founder and overseer of the Mount Carmel Guild in Paterson, where he specialized in helping indigent men who were addicted to alcohol.
 
He dealt directly with these men, gave them tough love, and put them to work.
 
I didn’t understand it at the time, but he was also the first priest I knew whose ministry wasn’t confined to a church or a parish or, for that matter, to Catholics.
 
He was, in fact, the first example I encountered of the kind of ministry Pope Francis has been urging since the first days of his papacy—a ministry that reaches to the outskirts of society to touch the most desolate of our brothers and sisters.
 
Monsignor Wall died many years ago in a tractor accident on a farm he operated as part of the Guild’s program.
 
My Google search on his name produced very few responses and no substantial information about him.
 
He did his work and departed this earth before there was an Internet to capture his biography and preserve it forever.
 
But he lives on in the incalculable impact he had on the lives of men he helped and the example he set for untold others, including me.
 
We observe All Souls Day on November 2, but the Church traditionally dedicates this whole month to commemoration of the faithful departed.
 
There is no more fitting way to carry on that tradition than by remembering in prayer those who have contributed to the spawning and maturing of our Christian faith.
 
Our parents, our teachers, our pastors, our mentors—exemplars like Monsignor Wall—may not have a place in cyberspace, but they have earned one in our memories and our hearts.
 
This post was first published in the Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen where the writer is a permanent deacon.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Please read our comment guidelines.

 
Home / Request Information / Site Map / Contact Us / Shop Online
Why Catholic? / ¿Por qué ser católico? / ARISE Together in Christ / Longing for the Holy
Campus RENEW / Theology on Tap / RENEW Worldwide