A Widowed Michigan Priest—and a REALLY Late Vocation

From the Detroit Free Press, here’s an interesting profile of a pastor who was just ordained six years ago—when he was in his mid-70s—after raising a family.


[Rev. William] Spencer, 81, is pastor of Holy Name of Mary Parish, which is composed of two churches that recently merged — Our Lady of Lake Huron in Harbor Beach and St. Anthony of Padua in Helena, both in the Thumb of Michigan. He also oversees Our Lady of Lake Huron Catholic School, which teaches kindergarten through eighth grade.

While rare, his situation is not unheard of in the state.

Of approximately 900 active Catholic priests in the state, there are about six currently working in Michigan who were married, then widowed prior to becoming a priest, according to church officials across the state.

Spencer’s decision to join the priesthood after his wife died didn’t surprise those who know him the best. They say he’s always been active in the church.

“We’ve seen for ourselves growing up how he’s close with the church and close with God,” said his youngest daughter, Elizabeth Gava. “He’s not one to be idle. … He’s happiest when he’s guiding people and helping people.”

Margaret Logan, his oldest daughter, said attending church as kids was a priority, even while on vacation.

On one trip, family members — including extended family — were traveling in two cars when there was a dead deer in the road in Snow Shoe, Pa.

It was winter, her dad hit it and the car became disabled, Logan recalled.

“The problem was this was on a Saturday night,” she said. “Sunday morning, we have to go to church.”

Missing mass, she said, was not an option, so nine family members piled in the single working car.

“We got to church,” she said, laughing.

Her two sons, Spencer’s oldest grandchildren, said they know there aren’t many people who have a grandpa as a priest.

It often raised questions like “They can’t do that, can they?” and requires a story — one grandchildren Matt Logan, 21, and his brother, Sean Logan, 25, have told before — with details of how it came to be.

Spencer attended a Catholic grade and high school in Philadelphia and went into the seminary in 1950, where he spent seven years.

“I had questions about myself,” he said of that time in his life. “Not about anything else. Just whether I could do, should do, would do this.”

He left the seminary in 1957 and was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after. While on leave over Christmas, he waited to get on a plane, noticed a woman, and went over to say hello.

The two were married in 1959 and shared the same love for God. Spencer’s wife, who went by Peg, battled breast cancer, which came back years later and then spread to the bone. Even when she was sick, the two attended services together.

She died in July 2004, and Spencer’s prayers, he said, led him to the priesthood.

“His retirement is working for the Lord for the rest of his life,” Deacon Larry Randolph said.

Read it all

And check out the video about him below.

Photo: by Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press