Future Saint Father Bill Atkinson Reinterred in St. Thomas of Villanova Church | From the Desk of Fr. Rob

June 26, 2024

Dear Friends in Christ,

Our Augustinian brother, and Servant of God, Fr. Bill Atkinson, O.S.A. has returned home.

On June 14, in a private ceremony, Fr. Bill’s remains were translated and reinterred to the church of St. Thomas of Villanova on the campus of Villanova University. He was laid to rest forever in Our Mother of Good Counsel alcove, in a newly commissioned sarcophagus hand-crafted in Italy.

The reinterment process for Fr. Bill began on Monday, June 10 at Calvary Cemetery. His mortal remains were exhumed and transported to O’Leary Funeral Home where they were examined, documented, and prepared for preservation for his final resting place.

As we know, our Church and Catholic faith have a rich tradition of preserving human remains for veneration. Throughout generations faithful pilgrims would visit burial sites where they could reflect, pray, and take inspiration from faithful disciples of Christ who have gone before us. They help to show us the way. Our brother, Fr. Bill Atkinson, O.S.A., is one such faithful disciple, and we are blessed to have him home with us in St. Thomas of Villanova church on the campus of Villanova University.

Our Holy Father Augustine wrote, “The bodies of the dead are in no way to be despised, for they are more intimately and closely united to us than any garment. They belong to our very nature.”

This special translation of remains and reinterment ceremony was followed by a Mass of Thanksgiving, celebrated by His Excellency Nelson J. Pérez, Archbishop of Philadelphia—a close friend of the Augustinians and collaborator throughout this process. This Eucharistic celebration allowed us to gather to remember the life, faith, patience, inspiration, and perseverance of our brother Bill, and to give thanks to God for his family, friends, caretakers, Augustinians, and others who walked with him as he carried his cross with the grace and strength that comes from the Lord. 

CBS News Story About Fr. Bill's Reinterment

After months of planning, the process to translate and reinter Fr. Bill’s remains was truly a team effort. We are extremely thankful for the collaboration and direction of many including the Tribunal from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, in particular Fr. Sean Bransfield, Fr. Thomas Dailey OSFS, Dr. Sean Doyle, Deacon David Keene, and Natasha Rios, who helped to prepare the preservation of Fr. Bill’s remains. We thank our friends from Calvary Cemetery – Renee Cirino, Paul Mancino, and the many cemetery workers who labor day in and day out preparing the earth for our loved ones’ remains. Thank you also to Katie O’Leary and all the staff from O’Leary Funeral Home in helping to carefully shepherd this delicate process. Additionally, much appreciation is extended to Lou DiCocco and the Saint Jude Shop for the creation and installation of the exquisite sarcophagus where Fr. Bill now rests.  

Fr. Bill remains in peace in perpetuity in a holy and sacred place that holds deep significance for him, the Atkinson family, the Augustinian Friars, and Villanova University. While a student at the University, and as a professed friar, Fr. Bill often attended Mass and prayed in church on campus. It is where he was ordained to the diaconate in 1973 and where his Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated in 2006. We gathered in the Villanova Church in 2017 for the official solemn opening ceremony for his Cause for Canonization where he was named Servant of God, and in 2021 for the closing ceremony of the archdiocesan inquiry in the life, heroic virtues, reputation of holiness and of intercessory power of Fr. Bill. In the Province’s efforts to promote awareness of the Cause, the Villanova Church served as the site for two milestones events—the tenth anniversary of his death in 2016 and the celebration of his fiftieth anniversary of ordination in 2024. 

Fr. Rob's Homily from the Mass on June 14

We are grateful for the partnership of St. Thomas of Villanova parish and Villanova University as well as Fr. Bill’s surviving siblings (Joan Atkinson Mullen, Al Atkinson, Betty Atkinson Harvey, and Patty Atkinson McCaffrey) and to the extended Atkinson family. They are loyal friends in our desire to offer more opportunities for the faithful to take inspiration from Fr. Bill’s life. It is our hope that this sacred space will provide greater access to the faithful who wish to visit his tomb and to seek his prayerful intercession. We hope that students, faculty, campus visitors, and the public at large will visit Fr. Bill’s tomb to learn about the life and message of this Servant of God and ask for his intercession.

What now? With God’s grace we need a few miracles! Help us to promote Fr. Bill’s Cause—forward this email to your friends and family and encourage them to pray for Fr. Bill’s intersession. Visit the Villanova campus Church. Feel Fr. Bill’s presence and spirit as you and your loved ones overcome the inevitable hardships that life can throw on all of us. Fr. Bill would be happy to see the many people who stop and pray here to take hope and inspiration from his life. But more importantly, he would encourage us to now look and see what God is doing in us and what we can do for one another. Servant of God, Fr. Bill Atkinson, O.S.A., pray for us.

Peace always,

Fr. Rob's Signature

Fr. Robert P. Hagan, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial