I am a local boy! I grew up in Lyall Bay, one of six children and an identical twin with my brother who now lives in Australia. I loved growing up by the sea; it was a huge part of my life. I also enjoyed riding my bike, and of course I loved sports. I played rugby at school, in college and even in the seminary. When I became a priest, I continued to play touch rugby, and the sports field is still one of my favourite places to socialize – catching up with families and supporting young people.
Another thing I really enjoy is picking up a shovel and mucking in… taking part in working bees, fundraising events, school fairs, and just being part of the life of the community. You might even find me at the BBQ sizzling some sausages!
Being a priest means being with the people of God. A priest goes where the people are, he becomes part of their life and goes where he is needed. This is what the mission of a priest is all about. But let me tell you first how it all started for me…
Although my father was not a Catholic, he fully supported my mother in bringing us up in the Catholic faith. We went to Mass at St Patrick’s in Kilbirnie and attended Catholic schools. I went to St Patrick’s Primary in Kilbirnie, then to Marist Miramar which later became Holy Cross School. It was in my teens, at St Patrick’s College, that I started thinking about becoming a priest. My father was supportive but advised me to get some work experience first, so I spent a couple of years working with the Commercial Bank of Australia in Kilbirnie. Later when I was in the seminary, I worked at the Post Office and had a few holiday jobs. It kept me independent and in touch with people. It was good preparation for my life as a priest.
I started meeting with the Vocations Director Fr Leo Curry who guided me through that important time. I also got involved in parish life, especially with youth.
A local priest, Fr Frank Whitaker, tapped me on the shoulder one day and asked if I had considered becoming a priest. He was about to go driving down South with another priest on holiday and asked if I’d like to join them. I had just finished college and thought it was a great idea! We travelled all over the South Island. It was a magnificent time, and I really enjoyed my time with him. He was a huge influence in my life. He helped me to learn how to pray, asked me all the hard questions and got me thinking. I am very grateful that he saw potential in me and encouraged me in my vocation.
Learning to pray and to listen to the voice of Jesus has been very important to me. I love to celebrate the Mass, and always spend time in prayer beforehand, but I also like to pray at the beach and in other places. We all need to find a place to be quiet, to centre ourselves on Jesus and sit in God’s presence.
In the Gospel of John, two disciples asked Jesus “Where do you live?”, and he said to them “Come and see.” Jesus speaks the same words to us today. But we need to learn to be quiet so that we can hear him speaking to us, just as the boy Samuel heard the voice of God calling him in the night.
And when God calls, I pray that you will have the courage to say, “Here I am”.
Fr Bill is currently serving as Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Parish, Wellington East