Rev. William Treacy, one of St Patrick’s College Maynooth’s oldest graduates, and a priest of the archdiocese of Seattle, celebrates his 102nd birthday on Monday 31 May.
Born in 1919, in the townland of Ballyquaid, Borris-in-Ossory parish, he attended Killadooley NS and St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, after which he went on to Maynooth to study for the priesthood for Ossory diocese. He was ordained on 18 June 1944 by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin.
In 1945, having received permission from his own bishop, Patrick Collier, he answered the call for volunteers to serve in the archdiocese of Seattle and he set out on the long journey by ship to New York, and then by train to Seattle. What was expected to be a five-year loan developed into a life-long ministry in what would become his new home.
His first appointment was as assistant in St. Alphonsus’ parish. Two years later he was appointed as assistant at St James’ Cathedral. In 1947 he joined the staff of the diocesan Chancellery as assistant Chancellor and in 1964 served as Administrator of St. Patrick’s Seattle. Becoming By 1971 he was Pastor of St Michael’s in the State Capital, Olympia, where he was frequently asked to say the opening prayer at sessions of the State Senate and House of Representatives.
In 1979 he returned to Seattle to undertake a special project. The business community wanted to have a downtown chapel for daily Mass. Plymouth Congregational Church were willing to make a chapel available, and Fr Treacy volunteered to take on the ministry. This mission still flourishes, and Fr Treacy comes back occasionally to celebrate Mass there. After a short period as pastor at Our Lady of the Lake parish, Seattle, he moved to Stanwood in rural Washington, to become its first pastor.
In 1960 in Seattle a TV interfaith discussion program called Challenge began, and Fr Treacy was asked by the Archbishop to be a panellist. The next fourteen years with the program were to make him a well-known figure throughout the Northwest. It would also introduce the Irishman to the Polish Rabbi Raphael Levine, and they became close friends and collaborators, a friendship that would last until the Rabbi’s death following a road accident in November 1985. Fr Treacy was invited to be a speaker at the funeral at Temple De Hirsch Sinai Synagogue.
When in 1965, with the introduction of the liturgical changes, Fr Treacy needed a new altar for St Patrick’s to facilitate Mass facing the people, Rabbi Levine, a skilled craftsman, carved a beautiful one from walnut, birch and mahogany. When the story became known, there was very favourable comment in the media.
Rabbi Levine had a dream of a place where people of all faiths could come together in dialogue and understanding. He discussed it with Fr Treacy, who was enthusiastic about the idea. A 320-acre property at Mount Vernon was acquired, with financial help from Rotarians and other friends, and students from the University of Washington designed and built the first lodge, capable of accommodating 72 people. Governor Evans of Washington dedicated Camp Brotherhood in October 1968, and it became a great success, with an average of 4,000 young people from all over the world a year availing of it. Fr Treacy retired to live in a small house there about twelve years ago. In 2014 it was renamed the Treacy- Levine Centre. In 2016, the land was disposed of to Camp Corey, a project that helps children and families coping with serious life-threatening illness. The Centre continues to work through media, lectures and meetings.
The story of the friendship of Fr William Treacy and Rabbi Raphael Levine is documented in Wild Branch on the Olive Tree, published in 1974. Their respective autobiographies, Love Bears All Things, and To Love is to Live were published in 1994.
Fr William Tracey is still very active at the age of 102, and his latest book, The Path Least Taken, a collection of homilies, will appear later this summer.
Happy birthday, Fr Treacy, from your alma mater – and wishing you continued health and blessing!
(*with thanks to Liam Doran for his assistance in compiling the above information)