Lee, William M, 1915-1992, Jesuit priest

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Lee, William M, 1915-1992, Jesuit priest

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  • Lee, William Matthew
  • Bill Lee
  • Willie Lee

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Dates of existence

07 December 1915-04 June 1992

History

Born: 07 December 1915, Waterford City, County Waterford
Entered: 09 October 1934, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 30 July 1947, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1950, Sacred Heart College SJ, Limerick
Died: 04 June 1992, St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin

Part of the St Ignatius, Lower Leeson Street, Dublin community at the time of death

by 1951 at Chikuni, Chisekesi, N Rhodesia (POL Mi) working - third wave of Zambian Missioners

◆ Companions in Mission1880- Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Obituaries :
Fr Bill went through the usual studies of the Jesuits, was ordained in 1947 and after tertianship was posted to Limerick. Plans were then afoot to send Irish Jesuits to what was then Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Bill conceived a keen desire NOT to go there. He was just settling down in the Crescent when he received a letter telling him to get a medical check-up with a view of going to Northern Rhodesia. The Irish Jesuits had been asked to help out their Polish colleagues there. So in 1950, nine Irish Jesuits sailed from Ireland, including Fr Bill.

For many years, Fr Zabdyr had moved out from Chikuni, his base, in order to set up elementary schools in various places. In 1951, two of these places (Kasiya and Chivuna) became new mission stations. Kasiya was set up by Fr. Bill Lee in 1951, the year after he arrived in the country. Later in December, he was joined by Fr J Gill. A letter from Fr Bill to Fr Zabdyr dated 17 June 1951 reads:

‘I have been in “permanent residence” here since the beginning of May, more or less, and will continue so for the future. I am busy building my Mission-station and it is going fairly satisfactorily. A space has been cleared in the bush, foundations are down, a well dug in the river, and grass for thatching cut and piled. After that, things will go smoothly as far as I can foresee. Somewhere near the end of July the house will be finished as far as I can do it this year. I may have to wait until later for cement to make proper floors. lt will be a two-roomed house, with a small kitchen near it. In the meantime I have a class going each evening for Christians who have not married in church’.

When Fr Gill arrived and a 250cc motorbike was available, Fr Gill looked after the station and set out to visit the centres of Christianity within a radius of up to 30 miles. Bill was transferred to Fumbo and later to Chikuni where he taught and was Spiritual Father to the African Sisters. He was also, for a time, secretary to the Bishop of Lusaka.

Having spent seven years in Zambia, he returned to Ireland to Gonzaga College for 30 years, teaching physics etc. up to 1987. The remaining five years of his life he spent at University Hall and at 35 Lower Leeson Street. He died in St Vincent's Hospital on 4th June 1992.

Bill came from a large Waterford family and was distinctive among them, ‘he alone of the 10 children greeted orders with “Why” and all information with “How do you know”? and he always enjoyed a good argument as much as other children enjoyed a party. He endearingly retained these characteristics to the end’. He loved discussion and debate but his kindness, good humour and generosity were no less noticed and appreciated. He was a good teacher and had a marvellous rapport with his students who really loved him. He was a colourful member of his community, enjoying the interchange and contributing much to it. He always had a sense of wonder. As he watched a fellow Jesuit perform some simple 'magic' tricks, he would be enthralled and laugh.

In pastoral work he was most successful, if somewhat diffident. Indeed he was suspicious of those who trafficked in certainties. Nor was he one for laying down an inflexible code of behaviour. He accepted people as he found them and in whatever circumstances they were in. He was keen to help them to make sense of their lives in their own way and to give their own meaning to their lives. He never entertained the idea that he could solve all people's problems but he did try to help others to live more easily with those human and religious problems that everyone experiences and that are beyond solution in this life. He was especially good with those whose faith was fragile, whose link with the Church was tenuous or whose practice was spasmodic. He himself lived happily with questions unanswered and problems unsolved but with the absolute certainty that the day would come when he would get his answers and solutions.

Pulmonary fibrosis was what took him in the end. Actually he had planned to visit Zambia with his sister in the autumn of the year he died but the Lord had other plans for him.

◆ Interfuse

Interfuse No 75 : Christmas 1993 & Interfuse No 82 : September 1995

Obituary

Fr Bill Lee (1915-1992)

7th Dec. 1915: Born, Waterford
Early education: Christian Bros. Schools, Waterford up to Matriculation
9th Oct. 1934: Entered the Society at Emo
1936 - 1939: Juniorate, Rathfarnham
1939 - 1942: Philosophy at Tullabeg
1942 - 1943: Teaching at Clongowes
1944 - 1948; Theology at Milltown Park
1947: Ordained
1948 - 1949: Tertianship at Rathfarnham
1950 - 1957: Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Having studied the language, he served in Kasia, Fumbo, Chikuni, etc.
1957 - 1987: Gonzaga, teaching Physics, etc. (In 1981 he took a sabbatical in the U.S.A.)
1987 - 1989: University Hall - adj. Prefect; also keeper of Records, Milltown Institute
1989 - 1991: 35 Lower Leeson Street, Minister in 1990. Assistant Registrar at Milltown Institute and teaching Latin
4th June 1992: Died at St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin

William Lee, known to his family as Willie and to his Jesuit brethren as Bill, was bom in 1916 in Waterford where he spent most of his youth. He was one of ten children of whom Sheila, Teddy and Peggy survive and to them we offer our sincerest sympathy. They will miss him terribly. Our sympathy also to his nephews, nieces and other relatives amongst whom he was greatly beloved and in whom he took a keen and warm avuncular interest. Within the family he is remembered as being distinctive: he alone of the ten children greeted all orders with “Why?”, all information with “How do you know?” and enjoyed an argument as other children enjoyed a party. He endearingly retained these characteristics to the end. He was educated in Waterpark College by the Christian Brothers whom he held in the highest esteem and of whom he had the happiest memories. As a student, he was most capable, a voracious reader and utterly stubborn in refusing to leam or study any thing that did not capture his interest. Attempts to break this habit by carrot and stick proved fruitless.

He had little or no contact with Jesuits until a Fr. Mackey descended on Waterpark College to give the boys a retreat. It appears that this man was a famous recruiting sergeant for the Jesuits in the '20s and '30s and he added Bill to his list. Bill's par ents received the news that he was to join the Jesuits as a sign of lamentable judgement. After all he had acquired a good position in the bank, and if he was thinking of the priesthood or religious life, did he not know the Franciscans, the diocesan priests and the Christian Brothers? So why join the Jesuits of whom he knew nothing? Characteristically, the more his parents opposed it, the more Bill warmed to the idea. He cut the argument short one day, by getting on his bike in Waterford ad cycling to Dublin. He arrived at Leeson Street to meet Fr. Mackey. Just as the good father was extolling the virtues of the religious life in general and those of the Jesuits in particular, Bill, tired out by his joumey, fell fast asleep. When the startled priest discovered the reason for this, he was suitably impressed and sent Bill to the Provincial with a strong recommendation. By the time Bill returned to Waterford, he had, more or less, signed on. The family's disappointment at his decision was mitigated by the conviction that he would soon be sent home from the Jesuit novitiate. They did not put a tooth in it: they told him that the Jesuits, of all people, would not put up with his incessantly asking, “Why?”, “Wherefore?” and “How do you know?”. However, Bill proved not to be one of nature's natural martyrs. He reserved his taste for robust debate for his fellow novices, one of whom reported that going out with Br. Lee for a discussion was like walking across a mine field. However, if Bill made his mark as a lover of debate and discussion, his kindness, good humour and generosity were no less noticed and appreciated.

After the novitiate, he began his studies that he greatly enjoyed, obtaining a good honours degree in Arts, and then in Philosophy in Tullabeg, and completed what was then known as the long or higher course in Theology. He was ordained in 1947, Between Philosophy and Theology he showed great promise as a teacher in Clongowes and The Crescent. His theological studies left him with an abiding interest in the subject. For him, theology was not merely an academic or intellectual interest. He read it seriously as a means of making sense of his beliefs and convictions. If in latter years his reading tended to concentrate on Schillebeeckx, Kung and the more unorthodox theologians, this reflected his moderate esteem for orthodoxy. He completed his formation with tertianship in Rathfarnham Castle. Plans were afoot to send some Irish Jesuits to what was then Northern Rhodesia. Bill conceived a keen desire NOT to go there, was greatly relieved not to be sent and in these circumstances found a posting in Limerick quite attractive. He was just settling down comfortably to life in the Crescent when he received a note from the Provincial's assistant telling him to get a medical check with a view to going to Northem Rhodesia.

He went in 1950. He was one of the pioneering group, and experienced all the difficulties of establishing the mission. He built a mission station physically with one or two others, taught, spent some time as secretary to the Bishop and picked up a touch of malaria.

He returned to Ireland in 1957 to teach in Gonzaga, which was founded as he was leaving for Africa. He joined a gifted staff that was conscious that the school was doing something new in Irish education. He appreciated the refreshing and innovative ethos of the place but was critical of the role of science in the curriculum. He rightly considered that it did not enjoy a sufficiently central place in the new school and that science should be at the heart of 20th century liberal education. He persuaded the authorities to permit him to go to the USA for six summers to obtain a degree in Physics. He set up the science department in Gonzaga, initially in a loft over converted stables, and introduced a demonstration course in science. This was hardly ideal but was all that resources allowed. Over the years he was joined by excellent teachers and science gradually assumed a central place in the curriculum but by the time the splendid new science wing was built he had retired. However, he was certainly the founding father of the now flourishing science department in Gonzaga.

He was a very good teacher, albeit with a short fuse at times and with less than an unerring way with experiments. He had a marvellous rapport with his students by whom he was much beloved. He was deeply interested in his subject, and had broad intellectual interests that enabled him not merely to teach but to educate.

Bill, however, was appreciated for what he was, rather than for what he did: humane, kindly, tolerant and unpretentious. There was about him something difficult to define but palpable to experience; one did not relate to him as a teacher or a cleric. He did not, as many clerics do, give the impression that he was fulfilling a role or assuming a function. He was very much the human face of the clerical and religious life. He was immensely popular in the staff room and was a colourful member of the community life. He was clubable, enjoying and contributing much to community life. He had his own style. He seemed to “sniff” the general drift of conversation and then assume a position against the commonly held view. The more vigorous the argument, the more pleased he seemed to be. While some found his style more attractive than others, it was salutary for those who took themselves too seriously.

He left Gonzaga in 1987 after 30 years and moved to University Hall and then to Leeson Street while working in The Milltown Institute as Bursar, Assistant Registrar and teacher of Latin, To his colleagues in Milltown he was a popular and lively companion. He was Minister for a year in Leeson Street in addition to his tasks in Milltown and was always ready and happy to supply in the Barrett Cheshire Home where he had the affection and respect of the residents.

In pastoral work he was most successful, if somewhat diffident. He was not one for passing on certainties. Indeed, he was suspi cious of those who trafficked in certainties. Nor was he one for laying down an inflexible code of behaviour. He accepted people as he found them and in whatever circumstances they were. He was keen to help them to make sense of their lives in their own way and to give their own meaning to those lives. He never enter tained the idea that he could solve peoples' problems but he did try to help people to live more easily with those human and reli gious problems that we all have and that are beyond solution in this life. He related well to the dedicated and practising Christians in the Teams of Our Lady who so much appreciated him. The presence of the residents of the Barrett Cheshire Home, who went to so much trouble to be at his funeral, reflects their appreci ation of a man who unostentatiously and uncondescendingly con veyed his understanding of those whom providence left gravely disadvantaged. He was especially good with those whose faith was fragile, whose link with the Church was tenuous or whose practice was spasmodic. He was helped in dealing with such peo ple by his awareness that Faith and its consequences are a gift and so he tended to be more surprised by their presence than by their absence. He himself lived happily with questions unan swered and problems unsolved but with the absolute certainty that the day would come - and for him it has - when he would get his answers and solutions. However, should they turn out to be the orthodox ones, he will, I suspect, be bitterly disappointed.

About a year ago, the pulmonary fibrosis that was to prove fatal was diagnosed. This restricted his activity greatly, and consider able damaged his quality of life. The signs were there for all to see. The work in Milltown became a little too much for him. He frequently and uncharacteristically absented himself from community recreation. He went to his sisters on Fridays and Sundays armed with a video as the effort to keep up his usual rate of conversation waned. But he retained his spark and interest in life. He had acquired a second hand computer shortly before going into hospital and was happily working on it when he got his fatal attack. He had planned to visit Zambia this Autumn with his sister Peggy and generally was looking forward rather than looking back.

We will miss his colourful manner, kindly personality, and gen uine goodness but he has left us the happiest memories of a good life lived to the full.

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830-

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Lee, William M, 1915-1992, Jesuit priest

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Irish Jesuit Mission to Zambia, 1946-1969 (1946-1969)

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Irish Jesuit Mission to Zambia, 1946-1969

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Lee, William M, 1915-1992, Jesuit priest

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IE IJA J/509

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