Some of our readers were upset over an editorial cartoon that I ran the previous day. The cartoon poked fun at Catholic priests and the widespread sexual abuse scandal.
I made a horrible error in running that cartoon. I hadn’t completely thought out the consequences, and acknowledged my mistake to the readers who called.
Later in the afternoon, I received a call from Jolene Nelson, the Rev. William Langlois’ secretary. “Father Bill (most people call him that) wants to have lunch with you,” she told me.
How do you turn down a Catholic priest? I agreed to the lunch date.
Expecting the worse, I tried to prepare myself for our meeting as to how I would defend myself.
I shouldn’t have worried, though. Father Bill, pastor of St. Patrick’s/St. Anthony’s Parish in Grand Haven, didn’t chastise me or say anything negative about me. He just wanted to meet me.
“Whenever there is an issue, I like to go to the source,” Father Bill told me at recent lunch meeting.
We became friends after that first meeting. Father Bill even came to my retirement party.
I interviewed Father Bill prior to the story about his giving up the practice of hugging children during Mass. But from what I have learned about Father Bill, I know he won’t let the matter stop him from what he does best — offer spiritual guidance.
Father Bill has served St. Patrick’s/St. Anthony’s for 15 years, well beyond the mandatory 12-year call of service for Catholic priests. Father Bill wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves the Grand Haven area and its people.
As the oldest of nine children, Father Bill was being groomed to take over the family business — the Langlois Furniture, Appliances and Electronics store in Muskegon. But as a student at Muskegon Catholic Central High School, William Langlois decided he wanted to become a priest.
What was his father’s reaction? “He told me he would be proud of me either way,” Father Bill recalled.
Father Bill almost didn’t get to realize his goal. He was traveling in a vehicle to the seminary in Wisconsin when the vehicle spun out of control and rolled over several times. Father Bill lay in a hospital bed for a week with a fractured second vertebrate and tailbone.
“My dad told me he wished he could take my pain," Father Bill said.
He recovered and began his mission as priest. Father Bill would serve the Catholic Church in Grand Rapids and Coopersville before landing his coveted position as priest of St. Patrick’s in 1996. St. Patrick’s then merged with St. Anthony’s of Robinson Township.
His call to Grand Haven was a dream-come-true for Father Bill. "I just love it here,” he said.
Father Bill is quick to credit his staff for the many accomplishments at St. Patrick’s/Anthony’s. “My staff is phenomenal,” he proudly said. “They make me look good.”
One person who has been particular important in Father Bill’s tenure in Grand Haven is his secretary, Jolene Nelson. She makes sure Father Bill keeps all of his appointments.
“She is more than just a secretary,” he said.
Father Bill keeps an extremely busy schedule in conducting funerals, weddings and Masses. He has watched the local church grow by leaps and bounds. St. Patrick’s/St. Anthony’s have more than 100 ministries.
“We have something for everyone,” Father Bill said.
One ministry that makes Father Bill proud is a program that helps the jobless in their search for new employment. “This gives them (unemployed) a feeling of hope,” he said. “It has been fantastic.”
The Catholic Church also works closely with Love INC and The Salvation Army’s food distribution program. Father Bill strongly believes that the church should provide assistance for those in need.
“We don’t ask people what their denominations are or where they are from,” he said.
Father Bill proudly said that 10 percent of the money taken in by the church goes to help other people.
While his schedule is busy with appointments, Father Bill sets aside one hour each day for himself — something that helps invigorate him. He also spends one month each year in Florida with his mother — a time he can catch up on some of his reading.
Father Bill also inherited a love of the Detroit Lions football team from his father. He’s been a diehard fan for a long time.
Father Bill has no regrets about giving up an opportunity to have ownership in the family business; he loves being a priest. But that profession can be difficult at times. Explaining death, for example, isn’t easy.
“When I get to heaven, I will have a lot of questions to ask," he said. “There are so many things that can’t be explained.”