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Funeral Mass for Father William Treacy
October 29, 2022

Watch this homily!


    This is a homily that, at some point, I began to think I might not be giving. I knew, of course, that God was going to call our friend home sooner or later, but the more it became apparent that it was going to be later, not sooner - and as Bill cleared one milestone after another: 90, 95, 100, 103 – it occurred to me that he might well be preaching at my funeral!

     Years ago, when he asked me to do the honors at his funeral, Bill told me to keep it simple and keep it short. Of course, those words can mean different things to different people, and Bill didn’t define them for me. And then, when he would write me a letter - as he often did - and enclose something he had written – a homily, perhaps, or an interesting article he had come across – suggesting that I might find it helpful in preparing my homily, I began to wonder how on earth it could be either simple or short!

     But I suppose that when one lives to be 103, he rates a longer homily than someone who checked out earlier. Right? So here goes.

     I first met Bill in 1952. Along with Jim Dalton and Paul Magnano, I served Mass for him at the old St. Anne’s church on Queen Anne Hill. He never let us forget that – nor did we want to. And as our lives unfolded and we traveled the road to the priesthood and lived out our ministry as priests, his example and his passionate love for priestly ministry never failed to inspire us – never failed to challenge us - and that was true till the day he died.

     What was it about Bill that made him so unique and endeared him to so many? Why did he have friends beyond number? I suppose each of us would answer those questions differently, but I think we would all agree that Father Bill Treacy was all about relationships. He spent his life developing and nurturing relationships – friendships - many of which lasted throughout his lifetime. And that’s not in the least surprising. He was approachable, unfailingly kind, gentle, warm, and open to everyone. And he drew no boundaries. If I may borrow from that estimable organization, Doctors Without Borders, Bill Treacy was, to his very core, a Person Without Borders, a Priest Without Borders!

      His embrace was broad, as we all know - breathtakingly broad – and, I think, surprisingly broad for someone who got his start in life in a small, remote Irish village in County Laois. Bill could have turned out narrow and parochial but no, he was the opposite of parochial. His parish was the world, and he had this amazing ability not only to connect with people from all over the world but to discover in everyone he encountered – young, old, wealthy, poor, bright, dull; gay, straight, liberal, conservative; Jew, Muslim, Protestant, ardent believer, atheist, it mattered not - in each person he encountered he was able to see the light and love of God. And, of course, he revealed that same light and love to them. And, as we know so well, the God Bill saw in others - and the God he revealed to others - was not narrowly conceived or defined. Bill’s God was infinite yet approachable, available yet mysterious, divine and human, all-embracing, all-loving, all-merciful, and utterly beyond even a hint of the sectarian or the denominational. Long before ecumenism ever emerged in the Catholic world, Bill Treacy was the living embodiment of it.

      Part of his total openness came from his devotion to learning. Bill spent his life learning. He had an insatiable appetite for learning new things and, as with his relationships, there were no borders here, either. No field of human endeavor, no human insight, discovery, or point of view was outside his realm of interest. He had this amazing capacity for welcoming ideas wherever they came from - whether from saints, rabbis, imams, poets, philosophers, theologians, common folks, comedians, casual acquaintances – he had this amazing capacity for distilling what he learned, weaving it into the fabric of his pastoral ministry, and using it to light a path for others.

       I never ceased to be amazed at how, even in his last years when he had every right to relax and take it easy, Bill kept on thinking, kept on learning, kept on making room for the new, kept on getting excited by the new. Not that he didn’t respect the old or that he trampled on tradition. Far from it. Bill always kept alive the best of the past, finding ways to make it come alive in the present, but never – to quote a favorite expression of Pope Francis – never turning the Church into a “museum of memories.” And he loved to think ‘outside the box’ and to get others to do the same. For Bill, there were simply no taboo or off-limits subjects: everything was open for further exploration and in his mind few, if any, were the issues about which the last word had been spoken.

       So often in his writings and his preaching Bill struck the theme of one human family, all of us being beloved children of the one God. I’m sure that’s why he chose that passage from John’s gospel for his funeral – Jesus’ great prayer that all might be one as he and the Father are one, and that’s what his ministry was all about, isn’t it? Bringing people together, creating places for dialogue, building respect and mutual understanding, tearing down walls that divide. That’s what Camp Brotherhood was all about. Bill and his dear friend Rabbi Raphael Levine dreamed of a place where people across many religious divides could come together as a family, a place where dialogue could be fostered - along with respect and understanding between people of all faiths and even no faith at all. Their dream was really no different from God’s dream for the human family that was pictured so powerfully in that reading from Isaiah: the mountain top with all God’s people gathered as one, feasting together on the richest of foods and the choicest of wines, the mountain top where God destroys the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all the nations.

       And wasn’t that one of Bill’s singular accomplishments in his nearly 80 years as a priest? He spent his life destroying the veil that blinds us to the goodness of one other, the goodness God has planted deep within each and every human person. And with his deep passion for peace and peace-making – and his utter horror of war and the weapons of war – Bill was doing God’s work of destroying the web that is woven over all the nations. The fact that his last days were lived out in the shadow of the appalling and unspeakable war that Russia is waging against Ukraine weighed exceedingly heavy on his heart and I can only believe that, from his new place with God, Bill will be interceding incessantly for the peace God wants for the human family.

       I referred earlier to Bill’s preaching. When it came to preaching, Bill’s homilies seldom followed the school of ‘make one point and sit down.’ His mind was far too fertile and active for that, and so he would hop-scotch from one story to another, sometimes almost to the point of causing whiplash. But he kept people’s attention because he told stories. One after another. In one memorable homily he shared with me, he went from the Sermon on the Mount, to the parable of the Good Samaritan, to the healing of the leper, to bullying on the playground, to donating books for a school library in Africa, to educational reform projects in Mount Vernon and Sedro Woolley. Whew! And he actually pulled it off. People may not have come away with one clear idea, but they came away with their eyes opened, and their hearts opened and, I’m sure, in some cases, their pocketbooks. It was all part of Bill’s brilliance!

        In the end, it was all about Bill the story teller, the master story teller. Like Jesus, Bill invariably told a story to make his point. During our last visit, he revisited with me one story after another that he had shared with me over the years. “Miracle stories,” he called them, and I think that’s the right word, and as he related them, tears would well up in his eyes and flow down his check – tears of gratitude for all the unexpected and, yes, ‘miraculous’ ways God had intervened in his life from his very earliest days.

       Let me share just a few of the highlights. There was that night in London in 1948 when Bill, the young priest, was on his way from Ireland to America and far-off Seattle. He had more luggage than he could easily carry and when he was about to board the London Underground train at Kings Cross station, he put the first of his bags, a small one, on the car and then reached for his large one. Before he could get it onto the train, the door slammed shut, and off went his bag with his passport, his ticket, and some other valuable documents. Bill asked the station master if his bag could be taken off at the next station, and the station master told him it was impossible – that he would never see that bag again. He did tell him, however, that he could return in a couple of hours to check, but he held out no promise. For the next two hours, Bill wandered the streets praying. When he returned to the station, much to his astonishment, he was met by a different attendant – a friendly Irish woman – who said to him, “You must be the priest who lost his bag. Here it is!” If Bill hadn’t believed in miracles before that, he did then.

      Another ‘miracle.’ Bill always thought the fact that the bishop of his home diocese in Ireland was willing to release him permanently to Seattle was something a miracle. The bishop - a no-nonsense type: all-business, stern, impersonal, imperious, and on the rigid side – was not inclined to let him go. But, miraculously – and for reasons Bill never understood - he softened and came around, and that’s what opened the door for Bill’s amazing years of ministry here in the archdiocese of Seattle.

      Meeting Rabbi Levine was yet another ‘miracle’ that never would have happened but for the fact that, in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was running for President, there were currents of anti-Catholicism running in Seattle and they came to the attention of the Rabbi. He was disturbed and went to Archbishop Connolly to propose an ecumenical-interfaith television exchange that might help to heal some divisions and build some understanding. He had in mind a program that would involve himself, a Catholic priest, and a Protestant minister. Archbishop Connolly agreed and very astutely asked Father Bill Treacy to be the Catholic presence, and there came into being, Challenge, a weekly TV program that was nothing less than a miracle here in secular Seattle. The program had a huge following, lasted for fourteen years, and Bill never missed a show.

       And there were still more miracles. Emma Hofbauer would never have come to this country from her native Germany had not Bill, back in 1953, generously intervened to find a family here to host her and then got her into Holy Names Academy. He kept close to Emma for the fifty years she was a nun at the Seattle Carmel, and all the years since. Emma, with the greatest love and devotion, has been Bill’s angel - a great blessing to him and surely one of his miracles – along with so many of you in his inner circle, beginning with Father Jim Dalton.

       During our last conversation, Bill spoke to me of one more miracle. It was, he said, when he awakened to the ongoing miracle of God’s unconditional love, compassion, and mercy in his life. To use his own words, “For this, Mike, I can only be humbly grateful.” And as he said it, tears flowed down his cheek. Those tears said it all. And, for me, his words were an echo of St. Paul’s words in the reading from Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.”

       Now, let me tell a little story of my own – not a miracle story, just a story - and then I promise to wrap this up. A few years ago, I paid a visit over at Swedish Hospital to the mother of one of my parishioners. We visited for a while, I prayed with her and anointed her, and as I was taking my leave, she looked at me and said, “Thank you so much for coming, Father Treacy.” I didn’t correct her but I wanted to say, ‘thank you so much for thinking I was Father Treacy!’ Wouldn’t we all want to be confused with him!

       I’m going to let Bill have the last word here. About a year ago, he wrote to me sharing his thoughts about friendship and thanking me for mine over many years. He ended with these words: “As I come to the end of the road I keep going back to Matthew 10:29: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for next to nothing? Yet not one falls to the ground without your Father’s permission.’ So, when my time comes to ‘fall to the ground,’ I know it will be with the Father’s permission. And I shall take you with me, as I intend to imitate my patroness, St. Therese, by spending my heaven doing good on earth.”

       Bill, dear friend, you spent your days on earth doing good and each of us is better for it. It’s hard for us to let you go but we can only rejoice because we know that you are now sharing in Christ’s glorious victory over death.  And we have no doubt that you will continue to be there for us as you always were. And so, my friend,

May the roads rise up to meet you, may the winds be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rains fall soft upon your field.
And until we meet again, may the Lord hold you in the hollow of his hand.

Father Michael G. Ryan





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