Jesuit Father Bill Addley Photo by Michael Swan

Cancer claims life of Jesuit Father Bill Addley

  • January 24, 2012

TORONTO - The parish of Our Lady of Lourdes faced the harshest command its faith can impose at the recent Sunday morning Masses. The Catholics of this diverse, downtown parish obeyed the biblical injunction to celebrate — all the while knowing that their leader, friend and pastor had died.

Jesuit Father Bill Addley died at St. Michael's Hospital just before 2 a.m. Jan. 21, surrounded by friends. The pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes for almost 13 years, a former provincial superior of the Jesuits in English Canada and one of the first Canadian Church leaders to face the sexual abuse scandal head-on, Fr. Addley died of complications from colon cancer  within two weeks of being diagnosed.

He went through an operation to resection his colon Jan. 13 and for a time seemed likely to recover. But the cancer had spread and he couldn't regain his energy.

Sr. Anne Purcell, Jesuit Father Jack Costello, Jesuit Superior Father Jim Webb and Jesuit Father Peter Bisson were at Addley's hospital bed when he died. They sang a Salve Regina and prayed the prayers woven into any Catholic life — Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.

As news spread the next morning there were tears and quiet commiseration in every corner of Our Lady of Lourdes. Charged with proclaiming the second reading, one parishioner got as far as the lectern before she had to turn back in tears — yielding the podium to Jesuit Father Bert Foliot.

Homilist Fr. John Parry resolutely preached on the Gospel, but turned to the passing of his friend at the end.

"He didn't have a chance to say goodbye," said Parry. "That's part of the sadness of this whole thing."

Parry noted how in the early 1990s Addley tackled the investigation of sexual abuse committed by Fr. George Epoch at Cape Croker, Manitoulin Island, in the 1970s. It was the only time Parry could recall that Fr. Addley was not encouraging, welcoming and accepting.

"His heart was broken," said Parry.

Fr. Addley was a Jesuit 48 of his 69 years. Born in Halifax in 1943, he entered the novitiate in Guelph, Ont., in 1964, just after graduating with a B.A. from Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

He took a Master's from Chicago's Loyola University in sociology in 1971 and studied theology at Toronto's Regis College. He was ordained in 1974.

On ordination he was almost immediately a leader among the Jesuits, appointed socius or principal assistant to the provincial superior in 1975. He became provincial superior in 1984.

After a decade and a half of administrative duties he was assigned to be superior of the Pickering Jesuit community, where the Jesuits care for their elderly.

In 1999 his gifts as a homilist and a leader were put to use running one of Canada's busiest and most diverse parishes. He was also a wise and respected elder on the archdiocese of Toronto's priests council, a valued board member for Regis College and the Jesuit Communication Project.

It was not uncommon to see Lourdes parishioners with notebooks and pens in hand during Fr. Addley's meticulously crafted sermons. He often closed with the encouragement that we should all "individually and collectively, corporately and personally make this world a little bit more divine and a little bit more human."

There will be a wake at Our Lady of Lourdes Jan. 26 and 27, 2-4 p.m. and 7-10 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will follow on Jan. 28 at 9:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes.

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