It has been a long time since large numbers of Williams graduates were called to clergyhood, but Father Bill Clark ’80 continues to carry on the tradition. Last month, Father Clark took his final Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Although he started to consider priesthood at a young age, his time as a history major at Williams (thesis topic: The Church, the Papacy, and the Age of Imperialism)  played an important role in his spiritual development. From the Holy Cross Crusader:

Clark’s spiritual journey continued during his time at Williams College. “My experience of the Catholic student group at Williams College was also very formative for my faith—I met a lot of different ‘kinds’ of Catholics, experienced close friendships that were built on a faith foundation, and found out that I didn’t already know everything!” he said. “By the time I graduated, I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a priest and to live in a religious community, but I wasn’t sure which one.”

For those unfamiliar with Father Clark, he joined the faculty at Holy Cross just in time to see Williams stage its epic 2003 upset of the Crusaders’ Division I basketball team.  Now tenured, he teaches “Introduction to Catholicism,” “Christian Prayer in Theory and Practice,” “Conflicts in the Church,” and “The Living Church.”

In his work, Father Clark takes a particular interest in the role of the lay community in the Catholic Church. In his 2005 book A Voice of Their Own: The Authority of the Local Parish, Clark examined this role by scrutinizing three local parishes, outlining the conflict between clerical and administrative perspectives with those of local religious communities, and identifying a theological tradition of an authoritative local community. And drawing on the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger, who was elected Pope earlier that year, Father Clark also challenged:

an oft-encountered inference that the transmission of the gift of faith follows a process as simple and direct as the clear sign of it in the apostolic office might suggest. The “gift of faith” can come to be conceived quite literally as a package that is handed from Christ to the apostles and on through their successors. What is often lost in the metaphor is appreciation for the indispensable role of innumerable “ordinary” Christians in and through their local communities…

[B]lindness to local authority is not just a “clerical” phenomenon. It is evident in popular and media definitions of the church that seem to begin and end with the hierarchy (and sometimes even with the Vatican and the papacy alone) [and] in reports and histories that present whole communities as the creation of one or another church official.

From this perspective, Father Clark has also spoken about the Catholic Church’s response to allegations of secual abuse, and has been a regular contributor to the activities of Voice of the Faithful, an organization “of concerned mainstream Catholics formed in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.”

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