Priest who encouraged youth and fostered racial equality dies at Techny

Father Victor Butler, 1933-2015

Butler,_Fr_Victor_sized_for_webFather Victor Butler SVD, a missionary priest known for his work with young people, died on Saturday, March 7, at Techny, Ill., at the age of 81.

"He touched many people’s lives," said Father Martin Padovani SVD, one of Father Butler’s longtime friends. "People flocked to his healing Masses. They would call and ask him to pray over the sick. He also was very active in Discovery [Ministries], a youth movement founded by Monsignor Michael Mannion that encouraged parental involvement and offered retreats and renewal programs for teenagers. He appreciated their energy, enthusiasm and curiosity."

In addition to Father Butler’s work with youth, he also spoke on behalf of those without a voice, particularly the economically disenfranchised and the socially marginalized. "He was a great advocate of the poor," added Father Padovani, who will be celebrant and homilist at Father Butler’s funeral Mass in New Jersey. "Having grown up in the Caribbean, he had a unique perspective on race relations in the United States."

Father Butler once told an audience at a panel discussion about race relations that he hadn’t realized that racial tension existed until he was told to "go to the back of the bus" in New Orleans in the mid-1950s. He took that experience and contrasted it with having grown up with no racial division and put them to good use as the first Black person named to the Trenton Diocese’s Social Concerns Board.

He saw the youth as the best hope for change. To that end, he founded a community action program in Trenton, N.J., that gave the teens work experience, a chance to learn about money management and extra money for tuition and school clothes.

Born on the island of Dominica, in 1933, the young Butler was the sixth of Constance (nee Etiénne) and Everard Butler’s seven children. As a teenager, he moved to the United States and entered the Society of the Divine Word’s St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Miss. In 1955, he professed religious vows.

In 1964, he completed his philosophy and theology at Divine Word Seminary at Techny and was ordained to the priesthood. As a newly ordained priest, he was assigned to St. Elizabeth in Chicago, an African-American parish with a long and distinguished history. In 1968, Father Butler joined Father George Clements, a respected activist in Chicago, and five other priests in signing a groundbreaking position paper on the situation of Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

After being assigned to New Jersey in the late 1970s, he served as pastor of Our Lady of Divine Shepherd (now Blessed Sacrament-Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd) in Trenton, but perhaps his most cherished work was in youth ministry.

Father Butler was an educator at Divine Word schools in Ohio, Illinois and New Jersey. It was in New Jersey that his friend Father Martin Padovani suggested that he consider a part-time position with Holy Cross High School in Delran, N.J.

Eventually, that part-time job became a full-time position as student counselor and chaplain, a role that he held for more than two decades.

In addition to the Social Concerns Board, Father Butler served as a member of the first Inter-Parish Assistance Fund Commission in the Diocese of Trenton, as well as a member of the Trenton Diocesan Administrative Board.

Father Butler earned two master’s degrees—one in sociology from Fordham University in New York City and the other in youth ministry from LaSalle University in Philadelphia.

He is survived by his sister Clara Gosine of London, England.

Father Butler’s life and ministry will be remembered at two locations. On March 15, the Techny community will hold a viewing at 3 p.m., followed by a 6:30 p.m. wake service. The Mass of the Resurrection will take place on March 16 at 10:30 a.m. Both occasions will be in the Divine Word Residence Chapel at Techny.

Since Father Butler spent much of his priestly life in New Jersey, he requested to be buried in Bordentown, N.J. On March 18, another wake will be held at 3 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Riverton, N.J. The funeral Mass will follow at 7 p.m.

Sacred Heart is located at 103 Fourth St., Riverton, N.J. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts made in the name of Father Butler can be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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