This is the eighth in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured Michael Putich, OFM. All are welcome to the Province’s annual jubilee celebration Mass which this year will be June 20.
NARROWSBURG, N.Y. — William Scully, OFM, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Upstate New York, describes his friar ministry as occurring in two stages — the first part was educational and the current part is pastoral.
While his current assignment at St. Francis Xavier in this rural Delaware River town is mostly routine, his 50-year life as a friar has certainly been lively.
William’s history is somewhat unique for a friar, spending years as a speechwriter for a U.S. senator, a writer for a prominent political organization, and teaching at a prestigious school in New York City as an expert in U.S. national security and Asian politics. He has also lived in varied places around the world.
But the best job, he said, is ministering to the people.
Presidents and Prime Ministers
“I’d like to be remembered as someone who was a good preacher and who cared about the people. The other things I did — they were fine. I’ve been with presidents and prime ministers, and that didn’t make an impression on me. I’m more concerned about being with ordinary people.”
The Bronx, N.Y., native, has a humble and interesting story of how he was called to religious life, after working his way through college as a metal lather during summers in New York City.
He recalls a vocational visit from a priest recruiting students for the Province while he was in the eighth grade at Catholic school. “The late Salvator Fink, OFM, even came to our house but my mother said, ‘Absolutely not. You’re not going to seminary. You’re going to college first.’”
As divine intervention would have it, Salvator tried again when William was in high school and, once again, his mother wouldn’t hear of it. “My mother and father grew up in the depression and never graduated from high school. The education of their four children was very important to them.” William heard this message loud and clear and went on to earn his degrees.
After graduation from All Hallows Institute high school, he studied social sciences at Fairfield University, a Jesuit college in Fairfield, Conn., where he earned his undergraduate degree, when the call to religious life still intrigued him. “I understand that I was the longest-running person on Salvator’s list,” he said with a smile.
He was always interested in law school, but instead of pursuing this career, William entered St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. He was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., in 1962 and professed his first vows there in 1963. From Callicoon, William studied philosophy at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H. He professed solemn vows at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany, N.Y., in 1966 and was ordained at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington in 1967.
“And that was that,” recalled the well-spoken friar.
While completing his studies at Holy Name College in Washington, he decided to study a fifth year at The Catholic University, where he earned his master’s degree in international law and diplomacy. “This was the area that I became most interested in and did dissertations on Zionism and Palestine,” he said. From there, he went to Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., for three years to teach political science. While at Siena, he had the opportunity to study with Frank Trager, a widely known expert and author on southeastern Asia and national security.
From 1972 to 1980, he was a specialist in Southeast Asian history, especially Myanmar, formally called Burma. In 1975 and 1978, he went to Myanmar and studied at the Defense Research Historical Institute in Ragoon. His doctoral dissertation was on the Burmese military during World War II. During his tenure at New York University, he earned the title of research associate professor in national security at the school of public administration.
“I was really fortunate,” he said, “and I had a good ear. I did my exams in Portuguese, Burmese, German and French,” four languages that William mastered.
Teaching and Research
While at NYU, he became heavily involved in writing articles for non-profit organizations and journals, such as Orbis and the Asian Survey. He also co-edited, along with Sam Sarkesian of Loyola University, a book on U.S. national security policy and low-intensity conflict. “I was involved in the national security program/defense policy,” he said. “This became my expertise.”
The golden jubilarian is quick to point out, however, that his political bent is middle-of-the-road. “Friars will say, ‘Oh, that Scully, he’s a hawk and ready to drop bombs on people,’” he said with a smile.
To stay true to his vocation, he spent weekends helping out at parishes in Connecticut and New Jersey.
In 1980, he said he received permission from the Province to join the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, where he worked as the senior analyst in Asian Pacific affairs. He wrote extensively on the military balance in the Pacific. He recalls: “I wrote all sorts of papers dealing with a political/military point of view.” He also wrote on the Polish economy, and on Indonesian, Korean and Japanese defense polices.
In 1983, the self-described “political junkie” left the foundation and became a special assistant to the late Sen. William Roth of Delaware. He was Roth’s speechwriter and assisted the Senate chaplain in opening Senate sessions with prayer.
He accompanied Roth on several trips to Japan, Korea, and, while he enjoyed the work, he said he started becoming disillusioned with political partisanship. He was being fed spiritually by helping out at St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria, Va., but balancing religion and what he called the “two-faced-ness” of politics was becoming a problem. He remembers thinking to himself, “This is absurd.”
So he decided to leave the Senate position in 1987, and felt so burned by politics that he said he couldn’t even bring himself to vote in a U.S. election for several years.
Not knowing where his next assignment would be, he was surprised to find a letter in the mail from the Province. “It said, ‘We would like you to go to St. Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J.’”
From 1987 to 1995, he served at St. Mary, where he called the new role a “baptism by fire,” having never been a parish priest. He fondly remembers ministering with Kevin Cronin, OFM, who was also new to the parish. “We enjoyed it,” he said.
His academic roots and love of teaching soon had him giving a lecture series on topics such as the Book of Revelation, world religions, and the Blessed Mother. He also spoke to the parish about ethical issues facing the U.S. Supreme Court and other topics.
“I’m a junkie for research and I enjoy doing research. Give me something to research and I’ll spend months on it.” He can knock out a 95-page paper for a lecture series in no time.
In 1995, he was appointed pastor of Our Lady Queen Peace Parish in Hewett, N.J., a place he stayed until 2004, when he returned to St. Mary’s for a year.
In 2005, he was assigned to St. Francis Xavier Parish in Narrowsburg, and began ministry in a rural setting. “Location doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I’ve lived all over the world.” He likens his ministry to a journey when he says, “It’s been a wonderful trip.”
At St. Francis Xavier, though approximately 200 to 300 families are members, attendance increases on weekends and in the summer in this bucolic vacation spot on the Delaware River.
William enjoys flower gardening, reading and doing research. Until recently, he enjoyed his dog, who has since died. Health challenges, he said, have caused him to slow down, but he’s keeping up nicely, and still enjoys preaching. “The highlight of my day is when I say Mass,” which takes place six days a week. He also treasures relating to people and is appreciative of “the wonderful friars who are very supportive.”
To celebrate his 50th anniversary of profession, William said he would like to return to Burma to see friends but unfortunately his health won’t allow him to travel that distance.
“But I’ve had a very enjoyable life,” he said. “Keep on smiling. I loved the people – that’s all that matters.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jubilarians who will be featured in upcoming installments of this series include Robert Lynch, OFM, who is marking 75 years as a friar.