Divine Word Missionary from Ireland made his parish his home

Father William "Willie" Hegarty, 1937-2008

Hegarty,_Fr_William_for_webRev. William "Willie" Hegarty, 71, a Divine Word Missionary stationed at Techny, Ill., died on April 25, 2008, at Evanston Hospital, after battling multiple illnesses for the past several years.

He was born in County Galway, Ireland, on Jan. 31, 1937. He completed his high school, novitiate and college programs at Divine Word seminaries in England and Ireland. In 1962, he came to the United States, where he studied theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Techny prior to his ordination to the Catholic priesthood on Jan. 7, 1967.

He requested to work among African-American Catholics in the United States and served for 35 years as an associate pastor and pastor in several urban parishes. He ministered at St. Elizabeth and St. Anselm parishes on Chicago’s south side, and also at parishes in Indianapolis, Ind., and the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.

He was a much beloved, kindly, caring pastor known for being present with his people. At his wake service attended by many people from St. Anselm’s parish, where he had been pastor from 1995 to 2002 and associate pastor from 1969 to 1977 and 1982 to 1985, several people testified to the way he had "been there for them in their time of need" and how he "walked with them when a loved one died." Among the mourners was a 100-year-old woman who said that "Father Willie was all heart!"

From 2002 until his death, Father Hegarty was the assistant novice director at Techny, where he provided spiritual direction to young men entering the Society of the Divine Word.

Although afflicted with a weak heart that required several surgeries and leukemia, which sapped his strength in the final years of his life, he did not let infirmity deter him from ministry. Just a few weeks before his death, he assisted at several Lenten penance services at nearby parishes and heard confessions for confirmation candidates at a Divine Word parish. People observing him walking slowly, using a cane and leaning on a confrere for support, sensed that this was a man who understood human frailty and knew the power of God’s mercy.

Father Hegarty was the youngest son of Patrick Hegarty and Margaret Dignan. He is survived by his eldest brother, Patrick, a religious brother in the Society of the Divine Word currently stationed in Bordentown, N.J.

This September Father Willie Hegarty would have celebrated the 50th anniversary of his religious profession as a member of the Society of the Divine Word. He was a priest for more than 41 years.

A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on April 30 with burial at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Techny. Memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to: The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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