ALLOUEZ — As he approaches his ordination to the priesthood on Saturday, June 22, Deacon Bill Evans is grateful for God’s patience and mercy. These gifts have allowed Deacon Evans to transform his life from a desire for personal and material success to one filled with love and service to God.
“At this moment, on the brink of ordination, I am not sure I have ever experienced such fullness of joy and peace,” Deacon Evans told The Compass. “To say I am grateful to (Bishop David Ricken) and the diocese for giving this old retread the opportunity to form for the priesthood doesn’t even do justice to how grateful I am to the Lord himself for taking a fractured vessel and carefully, lovingly, precisely putting it together again in such a way that, in his hands, it’s a useable vessel.”
At age 59, Deacon Evans’ vocation to the priesthood is not the common spiritual journey other candidates for priesthood experience. Born in Missouri to William and Alice Evans, his mother died when he was 4. He and his father moved to Kansas, where his Aunt Margaret helped raise him and sent him to various Protestant churches.
His first connection to the Catholic Church happened as a teenager while watching a taped TV broadcast of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve from the Vatican. “I just wept in front of the television” while watching a priest give Communion to a young girl, he told The Compass in 2018.
While in high school, he attended his first Mass with a girlfriend’s family and took one-on-one religious instructions from Fr. Tom Dolezal at Curé of Ars Church in Leawood, Kan. He said he told Fr. Dolezal about his desire to be a priest.
“At the time, he smiled and chuckled a little bit,” said Deacon Evans. “He said, ‘I wish you could see how green you are. You’re still in the afterglow of your conversion. I doubt you are fully aware of where God is actually leading you.’”
The priest’s words were prophetic.
After high school, he attended Washington University in St. Louis for one year, then transferred to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he was a pre-med major. Deacon Evans entered the church at St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence.
Following graduation from Kansas, he attended four years of medical school in Kansas City, entered the University of Wisconsin’s surgery program in Madison in 1985 and then began a successful career as a surgeon.
“There were times when my faith was more like a sign that I wore around my neck, that could be easily taken on and off,” said Deacon Evans. “I never ever quit claiming to be Catholic, but there were moments when I certainly wasn’t Catholic in the way I was living my daily life.”
That included a marriage, which he said failed because he put his career before the relationship.
“My faith should have been the glue that held it all together, but I was really climbing the ladder of success,” he said. “In so doing, I missed so much of the opportunity to be a good husband and a good father.”
In the midst of his failures, he said, “The Lord was always present, knocking at my heart’s door, even when I ignored him, even when I drifted far from the path of holiness. … Our Lord never, ever quit trying to recover me, redirect me back toward him and toward a path to holiness.”
Deacon Evans said that without God’s mercy and patience, “I could have easily fallen into a path of just secular nothingness.”
“There were times when I had to be driven to my knees in order to really give up my own efforts and my own understanding and go back to God and just cry out and say, ‘I can’t do this by myself,’” he said.
His cry for help led Deacon Evans to abandon his desire for material success. In 2008 he moved to Cody, Wyo., to work at a small hospital. He also served and worked with the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in Cody. He served as their doctor and they taught him the spirituality of Carmel, he said. “It was an opportunity to regain the path to holiness.”
His time with the monks led Deacon Evans to enroll at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., which focuses on second-career vocations. After one year at Holy Apostles, he spent time in Peru discerning religious life, but decided against it.
Deacon Evans had contacted Bishop Ricken about becoming a priest for the Diocese of Green Bay while enrolled at Holy Apostles. After returning from Peru, he contacted the bishop again. He said his desire to become a priest of the Green Bay Diocese stemmed from attending men’s retreats at Holy Name Retreat House on Chambers Island while still living and working in Madison.
In the spring of 2016, he was accepted as a diocesan seminarian and entered Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee. Last June, he was ordained a transitional deacon.
“I have treasured my deacon year,” he said. “I have not seen it as just a stepping stone to the priesthood. I have lived it, thanks be to God, as a true and necessary year of formation for priesthood. … The deacon year has given me a true sense of what it is to be a servant leader in the church.”
Deacon Evans knows he brings to the priesthood life experiences very few priests can duplicate. Despite his faults and failures, he knows that God is leading him.
“Many people have said to me, ‘That part of your life must have been hard, I bet you wish you could change it,’” he said. “My response uniformly has been, ‘I wouldn’t want to change a moment, because every moment of my life, whether it’s been a mountaintop experience or the deepest of desolations, has formed who I am and has also gone a long way to form my relationship with our Lord, with Jesus Christ, with the Trinity.’
“So I never want to deny that I am a sinful man in need of a redeemer, in need of Jesus Christ,” he added. “In so doing, I hope to lead others to that same realization. I happened to think that doing it as a Catholic priest, and within the structure, the genius of our Catholic Church, is the most efficacious and most complete way to do it.”
Among his family and friends who will be in attendance at his ordination will be his three daughters, their spouses and his five grandchildren: Hadley and Joel DeJaynes, daughter Harper and son Callum; Morgan and Craig Simons and daughter Campbell; and Paige and Chris Baltzell, son Jude and daughter Nora. “I am very proud of my children,” he said. “I think our love for each other has transcended all worries. The best I can do is to model what Christ is asking me to do the best way I can.”
Deacon Evans said the image of God as potter illustrates how he has been formed for ministry.
“Anyone who says you cannot teach an older man something new has never formed for the priesthood, because my learning curve and my growth and development has been almost vertical,” he said. “It’s our Lord saying, ‘Yes, not only do I want you, but I can use you. But I’m the potter and you need to be the clay in my hands. … And when I’m done, and if you stay in my will, I promise I will make you a useable vessel in my hands.’
“If anything is going to bring me to the brink of tears and take my breath away in prayer, it’s that,” said Deacon Evans. “In my saying ‘yes’ to him, what he has done has said back to me that, ‘Yes, I can still use you.’ And don’t we all want to be used by our Lord in the best way possible?”
Following ordination to the priesthood, Deacon Evans will be assigned to serve as parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manitowoc.