The hope to get quadriplegic priest elevated to sainthood

Villanova, Pa. (WTXF) -  Those who knew Father Bill Atkinson would say he's already a saint. But as FOX 29's Chris O'Connell tells us family and friends want to make it official.

If Father Bill Atkinson was alive today to hear he may be on the path to sainthood.  He probably wouldn't very happy about it.

"He would be the last one who would want the Sainthood. It wouldn't be up his alley at all,” said childhood friend Richard Heron.

He was the ordinary guy from the streets of Upper Darby, but those who knew him say he led an extraordinary life.

"You just knew you were in the presence of something amazing when you were with him," a caregiver told FOX 29.

Atkinson's life that took a dramatic turn a year after he entered the seminary at the Good Counsel Novitiate in New Hamburg, New York. It was a snow day in February of 1965 when he and his fellow seminarians went for a toboggan ride.

"When they started down the hill. The snow blew in their face. Actually-- Bill's face-- the other fellas were behind him protected. But Bill did not see the tree that was in front of him and went into the tree,” his cousin explained.

Bill Atkinson would spend the rest of his life paralyzed from the neck down.

In many ways that's where Father Bill’s story would begin. He was undeterred by life in a wheelchair with 24-hour caregivers; however, his goal never changed. He became an Augustinian priest, ordained by John Cardinal Krol February 2, 1974.

 "That was almost a miracle in itself. He was the first quadriplegic ever ordained into the priesthood in the Catholic Church,” said Father Francis.

Father Bill went on to teach for 30 years at Monsignor Bonner High School. He counseled many people, including his brother Al Atkinson a star linebacker for the New York Jets. Father Bill was busy mentoring young men and changing lives. You may have even seen him during summers on the Ocean City boardwalk.
He spend his final years at St. Thomas of Villanova.  Father Bill died due to an infection in 2006 at the age of 60. Ever since that very day, the group of family ,and caregivers have been spearheading an effort to canonize Father Bill to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

His longtime friend Father Francis Horn says Father Bill fits the bill. In the 4 step process of becoming a saint, Atkinson's cause has already passed the first test. He is now considered a "Servant of God."

The group has even sent out strands of his hair and prayer cards to  faithful worshipers who are praying for Father Bill's intercession; praying for a miracle. If there are two documented cases his cause for sainthood would go to the pope.

But could a kid from Delco who liked drinking beer and ham and cheese sandwiches ever become a saint?
Well according to Pope Francis, who may have a say in Father Bill canonization that's exactly what the church needs. In a visit to the World Youth Day in Rio: Pope Francis said "We need saints without cassocks, without veils, we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies that listen to music, that hang out with their friends."

"We certainly see him as an example of the virtues we all love to have. Humility, patience, trust in God, Father Horn explained. 'In this age of Sainthood We are more used to those who lived 200, 300, 400 years ago. Where now we actually have someone where people can relate to him. Knew him. Knew of him"

It could be years, decades or even longer before Father Bill ever becomes a saint. This group is hoping and praying the world gets to know the man they knew.


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