Fr. Bill DeWitte (1914-1994)
All Souls Day (November 2) is a time when the Church commemorates all the faithful departed. November is also a special time in which the Dehonians celebrate the lives of our SCJ brothers and priests who have gone before us, culminating with November 26, SCJ Memorial Day.
We begin this month of remembrance with a reflection on Fr. Bill DeWitte, SCJ, (1914-1994) a Dutch missionary, and later a member of the Canadian Region. It was written by Fr. Peter McKenna, SCJ, who was with Fr. Bill when he died, and will appear in the November 3 issue of Dehonian Spirituality. Fr. Peter writes:
William “Bill” DeWitte was born in the Netherlands, made his religious profession September 08, 1936, and was ordained a priest July 18, 1943. After the war in Europe was over, he became an army chaplain to the Dutch Forces and was sent to Indonesia with the Dutch troops. When the hostilities ended, Bill devoted himself to his work as a pastor and teacher at the SCJ Seminary in Sumatra. However, in 1957 he was forced to leave Indonesia for political reasons.
Bill then came to Canada in 1958. After two years in London, Ontario, doing immigration work, he became superior at Sacred Heart Seminary in Delaware and then from 1965—1974, he was superior of Dehon Seminary in Ottawa.
Bill was a larger than life figure who was loved and respected by all whom he served, particularly the patients and staff of the Riverside Hospital where he was chaplain for 17 years. It was here that he instituted the Palliative Care Unit. Working with diocesan priests, the Sunday Dehon Faith Community, the Dutch community, the elderly, religious communities of Sisters, and Christian discussion groups, he attended to all pain and grief brought to him. In all of these relationships, Bill was so comfortable in his own skin that people felt accepted for who they were. This was most evident in those who especially felt alienated from the Church. His wisdom, his beautiful sense of humor, and his sensitivity marked every encounter. He was eagerly and gladly part of any celebration of life, great or small. People loved Bill and Bill loved people.
In February 1994, the medical team at Riverside Hospital indicated that Bill had ten days left to live. No one could believe it! He was strong, vibrant, and feisty as always. The medical team advised us that gradually he would diminish. The members of the Ottawa Community chose to accompany Bill home to God with one of them staying overnight with Bill. They told Bill stories, sang songs in Dutch, and prayed with him. On February 25, 1994, I was privileged to be with Bill as he went home to God. I just held him and whispered in his ear that, “John loves you, Peter loves you, Bill loves you, Herman loves you, Adrian loves you” until the spirit of Bill went home to God. The medical team rushed in as Bill had agreed to donate his body organs, and that tests could be performed on his body to further medical research. It was a classic Bill moment; always there for others. But the great gift that Bill offered me that night was that I, who had been so afraid of death, now had death befriending me. THANK YOU, Bill!
Bill’s favorite scripture passage, “I am the Vine, you are the branches” certainly marked the essence of the life and ministry of William “Bill” DeWitte. Rooted in the vine that is Christ, he brought the compassion of Christ to all he encountered.
In your kindness throughout the month of November, please lift up in your prayer the deceased members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart and your deceased loved ones. You may find helpful the following prayer based on John 15.
Vine growing God,
you give us Jesus, the true vine
and tend to us as his branches.
As we abide in Jesus’ words,
prune us to keep the spirit of his commandments.
As we abide in Jesus’ love,
prune us to expand our love for one another.
In this life-giving union with Jesus,
we wish to see our daily words and actions
bear abundant and lasting fruit
to your glory
and to our joy.
Produced by the Dehonian Associates Office of the US Province, Dehonian Spirituality includes prayers and reflections based in the charism of Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians). It is sent by e-mail most Fridays. Click here to subscribe.