|Fr. William Webster, LC (United States)|
On October 16, 2003, I accompanied
a priest to distribute communion in St. Peter’s Square
in Rome. I was sweating up a storm in my
cassock and surplice under the midday sun, but it
was all worth the three-hour Mass. Mother Teresa of
Calcutta had just been beatified, and I was there as
an altar server to say thanks to Christ and
to her for my life.
Difficult Birth, Blessed Childhood
doctor in the maternity ward at the Catholic Hospital
in Charlotte, North Carolina, assured my mother that I would
not be born on February 29, Leap Day. Not
only was I born then, I was born weighing over
14 pounds with a very high fever. I was
baptized immediately, and taken to the intensive care unit.
No one believed I would live through the next week.
It was 1980.
When I was
a boy, my parents often reminded me that God
must have a plan for me, since he kept me
alive despite a tough beginning. This was the faith
environment we were raised in: in touch with the reality
of God every day in our household. We prayed
grace at every meal as well as night prayers,
and we went every Sunday to Mass. I was the
fourth of five children. We grew up happily learning
to appreciate family love and faith in Jesus Christ.
In reality, this is enough for any Christian vocation to
At eight years old, I received
First Communion, a day of happy memory. I was
educated at the Loretto Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida,
where our family had moved in 1982. Then I attended
the Mandarin Middle School and Stanton College Preparatory School,
graduating in the top 10 of the class. CCD
Classes at St. Joseph Parish in Jacksonville on Wednesday
evenings complemented the Catholic faith formation I received at home.
In the summers I attended week-long Bible school camps.
In 1994, I was confirmed by my beloved Bishop
John Snyder of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. I
was a Cub Scout in Pack 484 at St.
Joseph Parish, and then a Boy Scout in Troop 110
at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior. My experience
with the Boy Scouts forged my character: a priceless
experience. In March, 1996, together with two lifelong friends,
I received the rank of Eagle Scout. Street hockey after
school kept me out of trouble. Our summers were
busy with hiking on the Appalachian Trail, canoeing trips
on the St. Mary’s River in northern Florida, whitewater
rafting in West Virginia, camping, swimming, surfing, fishing: all a
boy could have dreamed of.
An Experience of
God’s Love, a Response of Generosity
When I was sixteen,
my older sister invited me to a youth conference
|Fr. William with his family in Jacksonville, in May, 2007.|
in Steubenville, Ohio, where we spent a weekend in prayer
and formative activities with youth from the whole nation.
During a Eucharistic procession under a tent packed with
thousands praying and singing, I encountered Jesus Christ as
my best friend. My heart was deeply moved for the
first time by the thought that Jesus has stayed
in the Eucharist for centuries just to be with
me. I became fascinated with Jesus and began praying daily
and reading Scripture. I could not help telling everyone
about this Jesus who knew us and loved us
more than anyone could. However, I had no spiritual guide
who could lead me to greater knowledge of Christ.
After some time, I met a nice
girl whom I began dating. She was from the
local Episcopal church, and I began attending their youth
activities with regularity. We would often meet there. I formed
many good friendships in this youth group, and began
taking a leadership role to such an extent that
the youth minister asked me to take an active part
in the Sunday church services. It was the year
1998. This caused a dilemma in me. I was
Catholic, but I enjoyed participating in the Episcopal youth group.
I continued going to Sunday Mass with my family,
but then afterwards I would go to the Episcopal
service. Over the course of the year, I slipped into
abandoning Sunday Mass and exclusively attending the Episcopal services.
Soon I became the assistant to the youth minister
in the Episcopal parish, running weekly Bible-study groups and
summer mission trips to help build homes for the poor.
I was happily engaged in consuming my youthful energy
for the service of others.
Coming to Grips with
During my experience in Steubenville with the Eucharistic
Procession, an idea had come into my mind that had
otherwise never occurred to me: I could be a
priest. The idea surprised me, but did not scare me.
Nevertheless, I had not shared this secret with anyone.
So, as one day the youth minister in the
Episcopal parish asked me if I had ever thought of
becoming a priest, I responded that I had. And
upon that response I began receiving invitations from the
Episcopalian clergy to enter their seminary.
I knew that there was some difference between the
Episcopal and Catholic Churches, but it was not clear in
my mind. From the outside, the Episcopal Church appeared
very similar to the Catholic Church, and several good
Episcopalian pastors explained to me that “we are the English
Catholic Church, and they are the Roman Catholic Church,
but we are all Catholics.” This was an interesting
explanation which brewed in my mind for some time.
I argued with my father several times about it. He
tried to explain to me that the Anglican community
had separated itself from the Catholic Church in the
16th century and therefore does not have valid sacraments of
the Eucharist or the priesthood.
was an eighteen-year-old rebelling against my parents. Although my
father’s explanation made sense, I followed the steps to begin
studies for the Anglican priesthood.
Episcopal Seminary in Virginia responded to my interest and
said I would need to earn a bachelor’s degree before
entering. In 1998, I moved away from home to
begin studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Since I had an interest in fine arts and human
anatomy, I began a double-major in painting and medicine.
These first two semesters were an adventure for me.
Many changes—a new girlfriend, a new home with new roommates,
a new job at a local restaurant—kept me distracted.
I prayed very little about the calling. I volunteered
at the local Episcopal parish at the university, but
there was little prayer. The busyness of the days and
weeks and months pushed me mindlessly ahead toward my
goal of finishing my eight semesters and entering the
seminary in Virginia.
The momentum came to
a screeching halt one day when I went back
The Decision to Become a Catholic Priest
had been several years since I had entered a
confessional, but there were some things I had done that
were pinching my conscience, and I felt the need
to speak to a priest. The priest invited me to
go regularly to Sunday Mass. I felt uncertain about
how I should continue my Episcopalian volunteer youth work
and live a fervent Catholic life. I decided I
would not radically alter anything, but try to live my
Catholic Faith again while slowly pulling myself away from
my Episcopal commitments, in order to insert my life
and energy back into the Catholic Church.
The question of my future career, though, remained open.
What would I do if I did not go to
the Episcopal seminary? I decided to take three months
in the summer of 1999 between my second and third
semester to volunteer building homes for the poor in
Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. This mission was organized out of
Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a group called Youthworks, with whom
I had become familiar in my activities with the Episcopal
youth. In Mexico I met a priest from the
Archdiocese of Chicago, Fr. Jim, who counseled me to go
frequently to Mass and confession and to pray the
Rosary. God would certainly show me his will. “God
is calling you to something. You must pray so that
you can hear him and answer him. The only
Person who is expecting an answer is God, since
the calling is from him.” Encouraged by his advice, I
resumed my university studies in September.
By November of 1999, it had become clear to me
in prayer that I should become a priest, a
Catholic priest. I announced it to my parents, who
were overjoyed. Their enthusiasm encouraged and strengthened my vocation.
As I look back, I can see how delicate a
gift my vocation is: at these beginning stages it
was tender and—like a young plant— easily damaged by strong
winds or too much sun. I am grateful for
what my parents did to protect it and encourage
it. As the calling matured in my heart, and the
words of Fr. Jim resonated more in my soul,
I began to ask the question, “Where should I go
to become a priest?”
“All Things Work Out
for the Good for Those Who Love Him” (Romans
We need to see the daily happenings of our lives
with faith, since there are no coincidences. The chain
of events leading up to my meeting the Legionaries
was, in my view, heaven sent. At a Christmas party
in 1999, my mother mentioned to her friend that
I was considering becoming a priest. Her friend’s eyes
lit up, and she said, “A week ago, I was
in the parish praying and saw two young priests
also in prayer. I invited them to lunch. They
were from a new congregation called the Legionaries of Christ.
They gave me their card and asked me to
give it to any young man thinking of the
priesthood.” With that, my mother took the card home. I
asked my sister, who had studied in Steubenville and
whose judgment I trusted, what she could tell me
about these Legionaries, and she said, “They are good. Call
In January, 2000, my parish priest
back at the university began preaching a series of
homilies on the theme of involvement in the Church.
He encouraged us to take radical steps to abandon our
selfishness and comfort, and to help evangelize this world
in need of Christ. I decided that I would not
wait any longer: at the end of the next
semester, I would enter a seminary. I asked my
parish priest back home, Fr. Dan Cody, for his blessing
over my decision. I had learned a lot from
this man, whom I admire greatly. He was happy
a seminarian was coming out of his parish.
In February, 2000, I met the two Legionaries for
lunch at a Steak ’n’ Shake near the university.
As I walked them to their car, I said to
myself, “This is the kind of priest I want
to become.” In March, I attended a silent retreat
in Louisiana to consider God’s calling more deeply, and I
decided that I would join right away. I told
the retreat director, Fr. Anthony Bannon, LC, that I
wanted to become a Legionary. He responded, “What does God
want you to be?” Was I calling myself, or
was God really calling me? I was certain it
was from God. In May, I made a pilgrimage to
Rome to put my future into God’s hands, under
the protection and intercession of Sts. Peter and Paul,
and in June, 2000, I joined the summer candidacy, the
discernment program of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire,
The night before I formally entered
the novitiate of the Legionaries, September 14, 2000, I
knelt before a statue of the Blessed Virgin in
the garden of the seminary and asked her to accompany
me till death on this journey. I knew that
my striving for holiness would not finish with ordination
to the deaconate or to the priesthood, which seemed so
far away. Rather, ordination would be a step on
the way to the identification of my soul with
Jesus Christ, which takes a lifetime to complete. I was
filled with a burning desire for a deeper friendship
I professed my first vows
on September 7, 2002, in Germany, where I had
been sent to begin my religious life in the novitiate.
From 2002 to 2003, I studied humanities at the
seminary in Cheshire, and in the fall of 2003,
I moved to Rome to begin studying philosophy.
During some personal difficulties in my studies in Rome,
I received a call from my mother. She explained
to me that when she was giving birth to
me, she imagined Mother Teresa of Calcutta praying. This image
kept coming back to her during the long birth,
and the perseverance of Mother Teresa in prayer encouraged
her to continue the birth bravely and generously. My
mother prayed that I would live and be healthy and
grow up to do God’s will. This reminder of
God’s loving hand in my life encouraged me to be
generous and to push ahead in my studies. I
had not heard this story until then. The upcoming
beatification of Mother Teresa was an opportunity. I went to
it as an altar server to say thanks to
Jesus Christ for inspiring holiness in so many souls,
and in giving us the examples of extraordinary Christian lives
in people like Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
My heart is full of gratitude to God for
the gift of the Holy Orders, which, God willing,
will make me a more efficient channel of His
Love and Mercy for all mankind. Laus tibi, Christe.
Fr. William Webster was born in
Charlotte, North Carolina, on February 29, 1980. He graduated in
the top ten of the class from Stanton College
Preparatory School in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1998 and completed
two years of studies in pre-medicine and fine arts
at the University of Florida in Gainesville from 1998
to 2000. On September 14, 2000, he entered the novitiate
of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire, Connecticut. He
completed his novitiate in Bad Münstereifel, Germany, earned an
associate’s degree in classical studies in Cheshire, and then
completed a bachelor’s in philosophy and theology at the
Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College in Rome. For three years he
served as the rector’s assistant of the Legionary community
in Thornwood, New York. Since August, 2007, he has
been doing retreat work for the Legion of Christ in
The vocation stories of the Legionaries of Christ who
were ordained on December 12, 2009 have been published in
the book "I Call You Friends". During this Year for Priests, let us pray for all priests,
so that their self-giving to God and to people will
bear abundant fruits of grace and blessings.