William Callahan, peace, justice champion, dead at 78
from the National Catholic Reporter, July 5, 2010
Father William R. Callahan, an international leader in movements for social justice, peace, and reform of the Roman Catholic Church, died July 5th at
Callahan, a Jesuit until the early 19909s, was dedicated to the justice call of the reformist Second Vatican Council [1962-1965] in the Roman Catholic Church. He was best known for his leadership for peace and justice in Central America, especially in
In the 1970s, he became a nationally known speaker on social justice and the spirituality of justice. In 1982, he published Noisy Contemplation: Deep Prayer for Busy People, which is a classic in contemporary spirituality. Deep prayer does not require the silence of a monastery, he said. Ordinary people can pray in the midst of noise and activism. “We are blessed with a merry God; indeed, we are the entertainment,” he said in the book - with a flash of the humor for which he was famous.
His activism began after he entered the
In the tradition of Cervantes’ Quixote, Bill believed in “tilting at windmills” even when the world thought it foolish, reaching for stars that seem too distant to be touched. He often said that the work of justice should be done with laughter and merriment and creativity.
He turned his dreams into action, summoning thousands of people to join struggles for justice. He challenged his church on gender equality as a plenary speaker at the first Women’s Ordination Conference in 1975. He launched the inclusive language project of the
In 1978, he began several years of ministry with Good Shepherd Catholics for Shared Responsibility, a lay group that had been disenfranchised by Bishop Thomas Welsh, in the then newly created Diocese of Arlington, VA. Welsh’s policies had drifted away from the teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and these laypeople had been accustomed to active participation in their parish.
In 1980, Bill was silenced by the Jesuits on the issue of women’s ordination, but resumed his public stance a year later. In the late 1980s, he founded Catholics Speak Out, a project of the
In the late 1970s, he embraced the struggles of the poor in Central America, especially
Three times, the Quest for Peace set out to match Congressional appropriations of “contra aid” with humanitarian aid for the victims of that war. Callahan and Pomerleau mobilized grassroots activists across the country, and
He traveled to
In 1989, the
In 1991, he became involved in the struggles of
Over the years, he guided many projects that the Center initiated, some of which spun off to become independent. These include: New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics, the successful Karen Silkwood case on nuclear safety issues (completed by the Christic Institute), and Equal Justice/USA - a project opposing the death penalty.
In the last 20 years, although not a Jesuit, he remained a priest and ministered in several intentional Eucharistic communities in the
He was an organic gardener, known in his neighborhood for a plot that was somewhat jungle-like, yet highly productive. He lived a simple lifestyle. His bed was often a mat on the floor (next to the winter squash he had just harvested), his clothes were bargain basement specials or Nicaraguan shirts, and he was content to eat just about anything that wasn9t moving.
He was also a dedicated runner. Even when his disease was slowing his ability to walk, he ran the Army 10-mile race (wearing a peace t-shirt, naturally). He called himself the “Parkinson Turtle” and finished the course.
Callahan received a Ph.D. in Physics from
He is survived by Dolly Pomerleau, his partner in ministry for 40 years, and by several brothers and sisters: Larry Callahan, Polly Alonso, John Callahan, Bob Callahan, Helen Demers, and Christine DeVelis. He is also survived by Isabelle Griffin, a cousin with whom he was raised by his grandmother.
He was a resident of
Callahan donated his body to