Priest, former head of PNG Narcotics Bureau spent final years in Illinois

Father William Liebert, 1929-2011

Liebert,_Fr_Bill_for_webFather William "Bill" Liebert SVD, former head of the Papua New Guinea Narcotics Bureau and founder of Wewak Boys Town, died at Techny, Ill., on Friday, May 6, 2011.

"During the half-century that Bill served in Papua New Guinea, the island underwent many changes," said Very Rev. Mark Weber SVD, provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province. "They transitioned from an isolated, colonized island with tribal social structures to an independent nation with modern problems, such as disintegrating families, poverty, crime and drug abuse. Bill was one of the people to whom the New Guineans turned for help. He undertook every challenge with courage."

In 1968, Father Liebert established Boys Town of Papua New Guinea (no affiliation with Boys Town in the United States), a center to care for and educate juvenile male offenders. At the time of its founding and through the 1970s, Wewak Boys Town was the only institution of its kind on the island. According to Papua New Guinean laws, children as young as seven can be charged as adults. Without Wewak Boys Town, many of the facility’s residents would have been sent to adult prisons.

Despite social upheaval, cultural changes and financial hardship during the country’s transition from colony to sovereign nation, Father Liebert kept the center in operation. Later, he opened locations in two additional cities, Erap and Hohola. He also served as appellate counsel for juveniles in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea.

In the mid-1980s, Father Liebert was a member of the Ombudsman Committee, an independent watchdog group that is mandated by the Papua New Guinea constitution and oversees government activities. From 1992 to 2001, he served as the director general of Papua New Guinea’s National Narcotics Bureau. In 1999, he represented the government in meetings in Vienna, Austria, to draft international law against transnational crime organizations.

In addition to his work with civic and government organizations, Father Liebert actively supported the education of indigenous Catholic leaders in Papua New Guinea. In the late 1950s, he worked with Archbishop Leo Arkfeld SVD to found the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, the first religious order of New Guinean brothers. Fr. Liebert also served as the congregation’s spiritual director and novice master and, in 1963, became superior general.

The second of Albert L. and Mamie (Jordan) Liebert’s five children, the future priest was born June 10, 1929 in Coffeyville, Kansas. He became a member of the Society of the Divine Word in 1949 and was ordained to the priesthood at Techny in June 1957. As a priest, he studied both canon and civil law at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

In retirement, Father Liebert authored two books: "A Retreat for Missionary Seminarians and Priests" and "Handbook of Faculties for Priests Serving the Mission Church." He had been living at Techny since 2006. He is survived by his brother Robert L. Liebert and nieces and nephews.

Visitation will begin at 9:30 a.m., on Wednesday, May 11, at the Techny residence. Mass of the Resurrection will follow in the Techny Residence Chapel at 10:30 a.m. He will be buried on the grounds of the Sacred Heart Monastery in Wewak, Papua New Guinea.

The Techny Residence is located at 1901 Waukegan Rd., Techny (Northbrook), Ill. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made in the name of Father Liebert and sent to the Divine Word Missionaries, P.O. Box 6099, Techny, IL  60082.

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