Bill Whitney Pilot photo/ Courtesy Bill Whitney
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NEEDHAM -- It has been famously said that there are no atheists in foxholes. No one knows that better than Bill Whitney, parishioner at St. Bartholomew Parish in Needham. A military man, Whitney found himself facing his mortality more than once in his 24-year navy career.
“Once you are shot at once or twice, your mortality and your faith come much more into view,” he declared.
Whitney was born into a Catholic family. As a young child growing up in West Roxbury, he recalled how the entire family would come together every Friday evening to pray the rosary. However, as he became a young adult, Whitney admits that “church and the formal part of the religion was a bit hit or miss.”
Although he did not attend weekly Mass during those years, “my mother’s influence was very strong -- especially once I entered the military,” he said.
It was his miltary career that sealed in him the conviction that, “your time is up not at your choosing, but when God wills it and you better be prepared,” he said.
Those experiences also strengthened within him the certainty that God existed -- a conviction he has carried with him long after his military service.
Every place he was stationed, he and his wife of 41 years, Kathleen, would find a parish to belong to, he said. As soon as he left active duty, the Whitneys returned to her childhood town of Needham in order to take care of her aging mother. They have been parishioners at St. Bartholomew’s, “first as parishioners, then as choir members.”
Five years ago, the couple began the parish children’s choir -- one that continues to be strong today.
“I like St. Bart’s,” Whitney said. “It’s a very personal parish -- I think everyone is pretty much connected here.”
He praised his pastor, Father Philip McGaugh’s “special gift of being able to talk to people, to really connect with them.”
According to Whitney, “there have been a whole string of priests who I think have been very special people.”
Perhaps, he mused, that is why there are so many active members of the parish.
“I’ve been in some parishes in my life where there’s only one or two people make up the core group that can always be called on to help,” he said. “Here at St. Bart’s there are at least 15 men who can be counted on to help in pretty much any way that’s needed.”
St. Bartholomew Parish, Needham
Year established -- 1952
Pastor -- Father Philip E. McGaugh
In Residence -- Father Thomas Stanton
Pastoral Associate -- Barbara Dury
Music Director -- Marianne Germano
Religious Education Director -- Melisa Hughes
Business Manager -- Barbara Dury