By MC Havey, Archivist
On Sunday August 24, Fr. William Fitzgerald looked from the altar to see St. Peter’s Church filled to capacity with family and friends for a Mass in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his ordination.
“It was a family Mass. The young cousins were the altar servers, singers, musicians and in the procession,” said Peggy Fitzgerald, wife of Joe Fitzgerald, twin brother of Fr. Fitzgerald.
“It was a great celebration,” Fr. Fitzgerald said, who greeted well-wishers and old friends for three hours before and during the reception in the parish hall. “I had my picture taken with four or five from my Grade 2 class.”
A long-time parishioner remarked that the parish hall, where the reception was held, has never been so filled, Peggy Fitzgerald reported.
And the weather co-operated with sunshine. “I came to Saint John for a sunburn,” quipped Fr. Fitzgerald. Similar good weather is predicted for August 29, the actual date of his ordination fifty years ago by Saint John Bishop Alfred Leverman in St. Peter’s Church. An outdoor Mass is planned for the family at the home of Joe and Peggy Fitzgerald.
A native St. Johnner, Fr. Fitzgerald was baptized, received First Communion and was confirmed at Assumption parish in West Saint John. On May 1, 1947, the family moved to the North End and into the Redemptorist parish of St. Peter’s, where he became an altar boy. He remembers serving the Mass for the golden jubilee of Fr. Charles McCormick in September 1951. From the close influence of the Redemptorists at St. Peter’s, he attended St. Mary’s College, Brockville, graduating in 1957.
After a year of Novitiate at St. Alphonsus, Woodstock, he professed first vows on August 22, 1958. Seminary studies followed at Holy Redeemer College, Windsor. He earned a bachelor of arts degree at Assumption University in 1961 and a bachelor of theology degree in 1964.
After seminary studies, Fr. Fitzgerald was appointed to St. Patrick’s, Toronto, as a hospital chaplain for a few months in 1965 before returning to St. Mary’s College (1965-1968). During those years, he was director of students, professor of history and mathematics, coach of all the sports teams, including an all-star hockey team and the St. Lawrence ‘B’ basketball champions.
When St. Mary’s closed, Fr. Fitzgerald began parish appointments, beginning with Holy Redeemer parish (1968-1975) in Charlottetown. For the next 30 years, he served as pastor and superior at four parishes: St. Alphonsus, Windsor (1975-1984); St. Peter’s, Saint John (1984-1992); Holy Redeemer, Sudbury, (1993-1999) and St. Patrick’s, Toronto (1999-2004). Noted as an articulate and thoughtful homilist, Fr. Fitzgerald intermingles humour and the ever-important personal connection.
During the parish appointments, he made an impact – from establishing a parish refugee committee and the restoration of the 111-year-old art in St. Alphonsus church, Windsor, to overseeing the construction of a new church and renovation of the rectory at Holy Redeemer in Sudbury
While pastor of his home parish of St. Peter’s, Fr. Fitzgerald directed the 100th anniversary of the parish in 1984 and marked the Marian Year in 1988. A new access ramp to the church was opened in 1992 and the St. Peter’s Non-Profit Housing project was developed and constructed. On August 29, 1989, he celebrated the silver jubilee of his ordination in an outdoor Mass on the grounds of St. Peter’s.
From an article from The New Freeman in November 1987, Fr. Fitzgerald is quoted: “There was nothing extraordinary that drew me to the Redemptorists. It was living around St. Peter’s… growing up with the Redemptorists. I just liked the way they lived and how happy they were. It was later on that the motivations became interior, when I realized what I was studying for. Basically it was the idea of trying to help people. It was a gradual motivation.”