PHILADELPHIA — William DeBiase, OFM, 87, a professed Franciscan friar for 59 years and a priest for 54, died on April 11 at St. Ignatius Nursing Home, where he had lived since last year.
Several friars from St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J., celebrated the rite of committal with final commendation at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Butler on April 14. A Memorial Mass for Bill will take place at a later date, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bill was born on May 1, 1932 in Brooklyn, New York, to John and Ella (née McKeon). He was baptized at St. Margaret’s Church in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens, New York, and after attending elementary school there, he graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Brooklyn in 1950. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951 and served in the Korean War as part of the 32nd regiment, 7th infantry, until 1954. William was present during the battle of Pork Chop Hill, which took place from March to July 1953. For his service, he was awarded a Purple Heart, which he received earlier this year.
After returning home, Bill studied pre-law for two years at Fordham University in New York City. On July 14, 1959, he was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, New Jersey, where he professed his first vows one year later. He earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University and studied at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, New Hampshire, as well as at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C.
On Aug. 22, 1963, Bill professed his final vows before Donald Hoag, OFM, at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany, New York, and on March 5, 1966, he was ordained to the priesthood at Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.
Bill’s first assignment after ordination was to Japan, where he spent nearly 28 years. He served in parish ministry and worked for 18 years at the Franciscan Chapel Center in Tokyo, where he began the rice ministry to feed the hungry. During a sabbatical in 1993, William served people with leprosy alongside St. Teresa at a leprosarium in Calcutta, India.
In August 1994, Bill was transferred to Jerusalem, where he served as a pilgrim guide and as editor of the Holy Land Review publication, as well as pastor of a Filipino parish. He returned to the United States in May 1996 and was stationed for six years at St. Bernardine of Siena Friary in Loudonville, New York. He worked at the nearby St. Francis Chapel in Colonie, New York, and also served as chaplain to a local Filipino community.
In 2002, Bill was assigned to Juniper Friary in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, where he served initially at San Daminao Spiritual Center and then at the St. Francis Inn soup kitchen and as well as in other roles – including as chaplain at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Burlington, New Jersey, and spiritual assistant to Christ the King Fraternity in Haddonfield, New Jersey. He also gave retreats as part of the HNP Ministry of the Word and preached for Food for the Poor, a relief agency serving the Caribbean and Latin America.
In his later years, Bill was known for his bread-baking skills, which he used to make money for the Province’s Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, which is headquartered in Philadelphia.
Bill retired to St. Anthony Friary in Butler in December 2017, and in 2018, he moved to Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, New Jersey. When the Province’s skilled nursing home closed in spring 2019, he was transferred to St. Ignatius Nursing Home in Philadelphia.
Bill is survived by two nieces, Ellen Kolb of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mary Ellen Mieszkowski of Middle Village, three nephews – Joseph Kolb of Albuquerque, and Frank and John, William’s godson, of Middle Village — and many great nieces and nephews.
Memorial donations may be sent to Franciscan Friars – Holy Name Province, 144 West 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001-3202, and to St. Francis Inn, 1802 E. Hagert St. Philadelphia, PA 19125.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “An Autobiography” by William DeBiase, OFM – March 2018
- “William DeBiase Pens a New Chapter to Six Decades of Ministry” – June 26, 2018, HNP Today
- “Veteran ’Friar’s Service Honored in Philadelphia’s Korean War Memorial” – July 27, 2015, HNP Today
- “Jubilarian Profile: Missionary, Chaplain Marks 50 Years Professed” – June 9, 2010, HNP Today
- “Franciscan Chapel Center: Ministry to Refugees” – Aug. 4, 2010, HNP Today