Current Servants of God

Current Servants of God

Father Bill Atkinson, O.S.A.

William Edward Atkinson was born on January 4, 1946, in Philadelphia, one of three sons and four daughters of Allen Atkinson and Mary Connelly. He attended St. Alice’s Elementary School and Monsignor Bonner High School, and upon graduation, asked to join the Augustinian Order. He spent a year as a postulant at Augustinian Academy, Staten Island, New York, and then entered the Villanova Province’s Novitiate of Our Mother of Good Counsel in New Hamburg, New York, on September 6, 1964.

The following February 22, 1965, while recreating with several other novices on the Novitiate grounds, the toboggan in which he was riding hit a tree, leaving Bill almost completely paralyzed from the neck down. Amazingly, he survived the accident, and following extensive rehabilitation, expressed his desire to continue as an Augustinian. He began again his novitiate year at Villanova, professing simple vows on July 20, 1970, and solemn vows on July 20, 1973. A care team of friars assisted Bill during his time in formation, and for many years beyond, as he moved about with the use of a motorized wheelchair. Bill completed his years of college and theological studies at Villanova, and with a special dispensation from Pope Paul VI, John Cardinal Krol ordained him to the priesthood at his hometown parish of St. Alice in Upper Darby, Pa., on February 2, 1974, almost nine years after the accident that left him a quadriplegic. He celebrated his first Mass at the Fieldhouse of Villanova University.

From 1975 until 2004, almost thirty years, Fr. Bill was stationed at St. Joseph’s Friary, where he taught at Msgr. Bonner High School, 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 for his wonderful sense of humor, and was recognized as an excellent teacher, encouraging moderator, and compassionate confessor. Fr. Bill was the recipient of many awards and acknowledgements, among them an honorary doctorate from Villanova University in 2000.

In 2004, Fr. Bill moved to the Health Care Unit of St. Thomas Monastery at Villanova University. He passed over to the Lord on Friday afternoon, September 15, 2006, surrounded by those who loved and cared for him. His funeral liturgy was celebrated on Tuesday, September, 19, 2006 in St. Thomas of Villanova Church, Villanova University, after several hours of visitation. Fr. Bill was buried the following morning in the Augustinian section of Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken, Pa.

ExtraOrdinary: The Father Bill Atkinson, O.S.A. Story

Hospitalized and near death, tragedy gave way to an incredible journey for the first quadriplegic priest in the history of the Catholic Church. In 1965, a tobogganing accident left 19-year-old Augustinian novice, Bill Atkinson paralyzed from the neck down. Nine years of relentless challenges faced Fr. Bill’s call to the priesthood. The powerful documentary on the life and impact of Fr. Bill, available on PBS, is available to all to view and download. His story will inspire and make you believe that saints do live among us everyday.

John J. McKniff, O.S.A.

John J. McKniff, O.S.A. was a deeply spiritual Augustinian missionary who served three nations in total. He is most known for his passion for pastoral ministering to the underprivileged in Peru and Cuba. Born in Media, Pennsylvania, he joined the Augustinian Order in 1924 and was ordained as a priest in 1930.

The majority of his adult life was spent working as a missionary in the Philippines, Cuba, and Peru. Though he was a part of the Augustinian Villanova Province, he collaborated closely with Augustinians from the Midwest during his time of service in Peru. After teaching at Villanova College he traveled to the Philippines and taught for three years. In 1939, he was transferred to Cuba and was appointed pastor of El Cristo del Buen Viaje Parish in the old district of Havana.

He was a remarkable pastor. Father McKniff was well-known to everyone since he frequently strolled through the parish to evangelize and serve others in the name of Christ. He founded numerous Catholic Action organizations, including the Young Catholic Workers and Legion of Mary. His sermons, leadership, and example inspired individuals to have a profound spirituality.

He encouraged parishioners to host prayer vigils in their homes.

He worked relentlessly in a setting that was becoming more hostile to defend and advance the Christian faith. His life was under jeopardy. He was held captive. But the most challenging aspect of this period was that he lost the Augustinian community life that he loved so much when 37 of his Augustinian brothers were exiled from the nation.

Father McKniff took his first vacation in eight years in 1968 and the Cuban authorities took the opportunity to forbid him from returning. The following three years were spent in ministry in New York parishes. But Father McKniff’s desire to continue his mission work persisted. He visited northern Peru in 1972. He assisted in putting into action the Chulucanas Diocese’s New Image of Parish pastoral strategy, which enlists a sizable number of devout laypeople to serve Jesus through various Church initiatives.

Father McKniff was weakened by a case of typhoid fever by the end of 1993 and had to unwillingly depart for America from Peru for medical treatment. After being admitted to a hospital, he passed away on March 24, 1994. John McKniff is renowned for his passion for missions, concern for the underprivileged, and closeness to God. He was particularly gifted by God, and those closest to him who knew him best—his fellow Augustinians and the people to and with whom he ministered in northern Peru—acknowledged this. They requested that the canonization process be started in order for him to one day be hailed as a hero and a role model for all of God’s People.

Fr. Serapio Rivero Nicolás, O.S.A.

Fr. Serapio Rivero Nicolás, OSA, was born in 1917 in Spain. He was a few years old when he was confirmed -it was the custom of those times- and he made his first Communion. In his native town, he completed his primary studies until one day the Augustinian vocational leaders passed through Bercianos looking for children who wanted to go to his minor seminary. “I want to be an Augustinian like you”, was his answer.

Assigned to Peru, the first year he was in the Chancay seminary house. From March 1944 to November 24, 2002 his community was Chosica where he was a teacher and spiritual director at the College and curate in various Augustinian parishes. He made the simplicity of everyday life the path to holiness. In him was seen a “possible and attainable holiness.”

At Mass “he made the mystery felt”. When he was already in very poor health, they told him that it would be better to stop celebrating Mass. He replied: “If you don’t want me to die, let me celebrate it.” For almost sixty years in Chosica he was doing the same thing, the same tasks, the same services, the same practices and providing the same care. A man without attracting attention for extraordinary events or for great academic titles. He simply knew how to live without ringing bells, or setting off fireworks.

He passed by on tiptoe – as Fr. Senén González, OSA says – like a little ant without making a sound. But he won the hearts of everyone, from the children of the Santa Rosa School who began to call him “Father Riverito” to the inhabitants and faithful of the parishes entrusted to the Augustinians who also called him that. As an Augustinian, he was a lover of the habit and felt a great sense of belonging to the Order and the Province with devoted and sincere love for his brothers.

At his funeral, a group of people began to shout: “Riverito Santo”. The Peruvian Vicariate eventually decided to promote his Cause.

Friar walking with three college students through a college campus

The Legacy of

St. Augustine in the Catholic Church

Augustine was a thoughtful, empathetic, and loving servant of God. He valued community, welcomed others, and treated them the way they deserved to be treated. Augustine also laid the foundation for the Order of St. Augustine. The Order continues to explore ways to care for those in great need both in our Province work throughout Massachusetts, New Jersey, and surrounding states and in our greater missions throughout the world.

We invite you to continue to learn about St. Augustine, his life, and his teachings.

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