Delaware County Catholics gathered together at Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High School in Drexel Hill Tuesday night to share their memories of Father Bill Atkinson and show their support for his journey toward sainthood.
Atkinson was the first quadriplegic ordained a Catholic priest. He taught at Monsignor Bonner for 30 years (before it was merged with Prendergast). He died in 2006 at the age of 60. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed his cause for Sainthood in 2015 and Archbishop Chaput formally opened his cause for sainthood in April.
The Catholic church bestows the title of saint onto people believed to have an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness to God, a title Richard Walker believes Father Atkinson deserves.
“Saints are supposed to be an example about how to live a Godly life, so when you look at somebody like that,” said Walker,” you know you can see somebody who put it into practice in a very, I guess ordinary way.”
Walker graduated from Bonner in 1973. He said Father Atkinson not only embodied the spirit of the school he also exemplified the teachings of Christ.
“To excel in the face of adversity, I think that’s what any school tries to teach your students and especially at a Catholic institution like this. And he certainly exemplified that,” said Walker.
John Black graduated from Bonner in 1985. He said Father Atkinson did not let his physical condition hold him back.
“What he had to overcome as a priest, first quadriplegic who dedicated his life to serving others. I went to school here in 1985 and got to see his leadership first hand,” said Black.
Black believes Father Atkinson should be considered for sainthood because he lived a virtuous life and he embodied the teachings of the Christian faith.
“It’s the Augustinians, the history of the school here. So you have the Augustinian history but then you have a leader within the Augustinian community which stood out even more so, representing what the Bonner values is all about,” said Black.
Speakers at the information sessions included family members, friends, and colleagues. The event gave community members like Arlene Dougherty an opportunity to learn more about a local man and the road to canonization.
“I’ve heard about Father Atkinson. I graduated from Prendi. I was born the same year as Father Atkinson and I just think this is so exciting that we’re doing this. And I wanted to know more about his cause,” said Dougherty.
Kathy Euganeo is another who attended and believes Father Atkinson deserves to be canonized.
“I believe his condition brought Christ out in these students and in his fellow priests so it gave these boys in this school an ability to serve in a way that they probably never would had that opportunity,” she said.