The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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July 14, 2000 Issue
Special Section:
Priests' Jubilee

Concerned by priest shortage, proud of laity

Fr. Spalding has seen priest's role change in 55 years

By Leah Lehman
Compass Correspondent

Fr. William Spaulding knew he wanted to be a priest ever since he was in fourth grade, at Sacred Heart School in Marshfield.

"The pastor gave a nice vocation talk," he recalled. "There were three of us who wanted to, so I had it in the back of my mind from then. Then my dad took a job in Menasha and I went to Catholic high school (St. Mary's) too."

After high school, St. Lawrence College in Mt. Calvary, Catholic University of America and St. John Seminary in Minnesota. That not only led to a college degree, but a masters degree in philosophy. He was ordained in 1945.

"But it started way back there, I sure never regretted it."

After serving a time as an associate pastor, Fr. Spalding was appointed to the Apostolate (now Catholic Social Services) for 17 years. For 10 of those years, he was the director of the Apostolate, which had four or five branch offices around the diocese.

"Then the Bishop said, 'time to start a parish,'" Fr. Spalding recalls. The new parish, Resurrection, was built on the southeast side of Green Bay (Allouez). Fr. Spalding and the parishioners had to start from scratch in the building of the church, a school, and convent in two years time. Fr. Spalding, a diehard Packer fan, said that head coach Vince Lombardi was a member of the building committee.

The priest remembers how Lombardi and his wife, Marie, sat in the middle of the ninth pew every Sunday morning. Lombardi's successor, Phil Bengston, was also a member of the parish.

Then, in 1973, Fr. Spalding came to Shawano as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish, which also served St. Martin's in Cecil. In the early 1980's, Cecil began a building program, becoming the second building project he oversaw.

There was yet more building in his future. In 1984, he went to St. Francis Solanus in Gresham. At that time, the parish was raising funds for their building program. He served there until his retirement from the active priesthood in 1994, at the age of 75.

Besides the Packers, Fr. Spalding enjoys golf, fishing and hunting. That, too, goes back to childhood. At age 13, he was one of the youngest ever to qualify as an Eagle Scout.

He has seen some changes in the church over his 55 years of priesthood.

"Long about 1968, about the time of the Vatican Council, we thought we should have a diocesan priest council," he remembers. "We got that started in 1968 and I got elected president. It kind of changed throughout the years and calls itself the Presbyeral Council now but still meets with the bishop regularly."

"At the same time, we started the National Council and I was involved in that too," he added. "I was on the board for three or four years. It was designed to get priests more directly involved and spread out the responsibilities. I think it's worked out very well. The National Council of Priests is very active and also the Presbyteral Council in the diocese is very active in making decisions, especially when we are so short of priests."

That priest shortage concerns this man who has been a priest for 55 years.

"This parish and that parish, and how do we put them together and broaden the responsibilities of priests to a larger area?" he asks, noting a major concern. "And it's going to be more difficult in the next five, six years, or ten years if we don't get a lot more vocation students. Only one ordination this year. The big classes from back in the 60's are reaching retirement age now."

Fr. Spalding feels that the increasing involvement of lay people in administration and in ministries of the church has been a positive thing to come out of the priest shortage.

"(Lay ministry) started out as a deficit thing, but now it's grown to utilize them," he said. "Vatican II said the church is the people of God and they better get involved. They better help as much as they can to spread the ministry and the Bible in a Catholic sense.

"But the work of a priest continues," he added. "It's the administration of the sacraments, bringing of the Bible message. What it means in the life of each individual. So that hasn't changed, in fact, it's deepened."

In looking back he said that, over these 55 years, he has taken the most pride in the chance to be a part of people's lives in a positive way, and the constant preaching of God's Word.

"The presence of Christ in the life of the parish," he said. "Being able to help people understand and appreciate the wonderful gift they have. It's been very satisfying throughout the course of many years."

Fr. Spalding biography

Fr. William James Spalding, third of eight children of Thomas and Helen (Flannigan) Spalding, was born in Marshfield Aug. 20, 1919.

Home Parish: St. Mary, Menasha

Education: St. Mary High School, Menasha; junior college at Mt. Calvary; philosophy on a Basselin Scholarship at the Catholic University of America (MA, 1942); theology at St. John Seminary, Collegeville.

Ordained by Bp. Stanislaus Bona at the chapel of St. Joseph Orphan Home, Sept. 29, 1945.

Associate Pastor: St. Peter, Oshkosh.

Pastor: Resurrection Parish, Green Bay (founding pastor); Sacred Heart Parish, Shawano, with missions of St. Martin, Cecil (oversaw building of church at Cecil) and St. Wenceslaus, Waukechon; St. Francis Solanus, Gresham (oversaw building of new church).

Administrator: St. Mary, Leopolis; Sacred Heart, Shawano; St. Rose, Clintonville; St. Mary, Bear Creek

Other service to Diocese: staff of the Diocesan Apostolate (now called Catholic Social Services); director of OshkoshApostolate; director of Green Bay Apostolate; organized and first president of Green Bay Priests' Association; president of the Leo Benevolent Association; Presbyteral Council; Diocesan Consultor; Diocesan Finance Committee; Priests' Personnel Board; organized the Clergy Golf Tournament in Cecil for 25 years; organized a Pre-Lenten Relaxer for priests for the last 30-35 years. The Fr. Spalding gold tournament is an annual fund-raiser for Catholic Social Services.

Family in Area: Mrs. Phil Vanderheyden, St. Patrick, Menasha; Mrs. Jack Crockett, St. Margaret Mary, Neenah; John Spalding, St. Mary, Greenleaf.

Retired from active priesthood: Aug. 31, 1994

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