William Pius Conlan, O.P.
Birth: February 22, 1921
Profession: June 25, 1943
Ordination: July 18, 1946
Died: August 26, 2000
(Excerpts from the homily given by Fr. Frederick Hinnebusch, O.P.)
For the Dominican the appeal of the active ministry is primary; the Friar Preacher exists to preach; to prepare by prayer and study, then to go out on mission; to fulfill the desire to help souls on the contemporary scene; to engage in a pastoral interplay with people. Whatever form this activity may take, it is always “to be of use to souls”, to cite a saying of our Father St. Dominic.
But to paraphrase (Milton ?): “They also serve who sit and write”! The Apostolate of the Desk is also a Dominican Apostolate. The spoken word in one sense is transient, passing, for it is tailored to the moment. Usually it leaves no mark or record except in the individual soul. But the written word can last for centuries.
Bill exemplified both ministries. For 19 years a professor of theology at Sacred Heart Dominican College in Houston, TX; Siena Heights College in Adrian, MI; College of St. Teresa, Winona, MI; Xavier University, New Orleans, LA. For two years he served as chaplain at Rice University. Here in our Community, the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC, he engaged in pastoral activity, hearing confessions at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as well as willingly taking assignments that were slow in attracting volunteers, such as the Christian Brothers at St. John’s College and the Aquasco parish in southern Maryland.
But his ministry was also the Apostolate of the Desk. For eight years he served on the Leonine Commission at New Haven, CT and then here at the House of Studies for the past 23 years. He had had early contact with many of the Leonine Fathers at Le Saulchoir, near Paris. In his study at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, Canada, he acquired a wealth of knowledge of 13th century thought, such as the numerous Commentaries on the Sentences. At New Haven he worked on St. Thomas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics and here at the House of Studies on the Third Book of the Sentences of Peter Lombard.
Bill Conlan was engaged in active pastoral ministry, but he was also a stellar representative of the Apostolate of the Desk, by his devoted labor on the Leonine Commission, and with his erudition – how many of us realized the wealth of information he carried about in his head. Very often questions about St. Thomas, his teaching, or allied problems were referred to me. If I did not have the solution, I would say: “See Bill Conlan, he will know.”
I would like to close with a limerick from Harpers Monthly, 1979, which I believe is apropos to this occasion:
A crusty old monk was thought odd
For he labored at Latin, unshod.
When his friends asked him: why?
He proclaimed with a cry:
For the honor and glory of God!