William E. Atkinson, O.S.A.

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1946 – 2006 (September 15)

William Edward Atkinson was born on January 4, 1946, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of three sons and four daughters of Allen J. Atkinson and Mary S. Connelly. He was baptized at Saint Alice’s Church, Upper Darby, PA., on January 27, 1946, and later attended St. Alice’s Elementary School. He entered Msgr. Bonner High School, in Drexel Hill, in 1959 and, following graduation in 1963, spent a year as a post-graduate postulant at Augustinian Academy, Staten Island, New York. He was accepted as a novice at Good Counsel Novitiate, New Hamburg, N.Y., on September 9, 1964, and five months later, on February 22, 1965, was involved in a tobogganing accident together with several other novices. Hospitalized and near death at St. Francis Hospital, in Poughkeepsie, he was stabilized through the efforts of the medical team, his family and his Augustinian brothers. He later spent a year at Magee Rehabilitation in Philadelphia, almost completely paralyzed from the neck down, with limited movement of his head, neck, shoulders and arms. 

Bill expressed his wish to continue as an Augustinian, and so entered St. Mary’s Hall, at Villanova University. He made his novitiate year there, July 19, 1969 to July 20, 1970, and professed simple vows, followed by the profession of solemn vows on July 20, 1973. A care team of fellow Augustinians ministered to Bill during his time in formation and for many years beyond. Moving about with the use of a motorized wheelchair, he completed college and expressed his desire to continue studies for the priesthood. The Department of Theology at Villanova University and friars on the faculty of the Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., helped Bill complete his theological studies, and John Cardinal Krol, with a special dispensation from Pope Paul VI, ordained Bill to the priesthood at his home parish of St. Alice, on February 2, 1974, almost nine years after the accident that had left him a quadriplegic. His first Mass was celebrated at the Field House at Villanova University.

From 1975 until 2004, Father Bill was stationed at St. Joseph’s Friary, Msgr. Bonner High School, Drexel Hill, where he taught theology, was assistant school chaplain, senior class retreat coordinator, moderator of the football team, and the director of the after-school and Saturday detention program. He was known as a strict disciplinarian in the classroom, an excellent teacher, encouraging moderator, and compassionate confessor. Father Bill was the recipient of many awards and acknowledgements, among them an honorary doctorate from Villanova University in 2000.

In 2004, Father Bill moved to the Health Care Unit of Saint Thomas Monastery, Villanova. There, as at Monsignor Bonner previously, he experienced the care of a dedicated nursing staff. His family and his community were also a constant presence and support.

Father Bill passed over to the Lord on Friday afternoon, September 15, 2006. His funeral liturgy was celebrated on Tuesday, September, 19, 2006 in Saint Thomas Church, Villanova University, followed by his burial the next morning in the Augustinian section of Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken.

The Cause for his canonization was opened by the Order on the ninth anniversary of his death, September 15, 2015, in Philadelphia.