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Father William Deering
Conferral speech for the Distinguished Alumnus Award given at the 2005 Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion

Presented August 9, 2005
by Fr. Richard M. Ginther, member of the Alumni Board of Directors

There are few Saint Meinrad alumni who have so generously shared their time and talent with Saint Meinrad as thisFr. William Deering year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Over the years, many Saint Meinrad alumni have come to know him through his liturgical music, sense of humor, love of liturgy and joy of traveling. This year’s honoree is a deeply devoted, loyal son of Saint Meinrad and soon-to-be golden jubilarian.

A member of the Class of 1956 and a priest of the Diocese of Evansville, Fr. William J. Deering has been a pastor, a teacher, and an administrator. His assignments in the Diocese of Evansville read like the trip itineraries he created for the Alumni Association tours he led. He began his priestly ministry as an associate pastor at St. Boniface Parish, and then later at St. Mary Parish, both in Evansville. He went on to serve as pastor of St. Patrick in Corning, St. Boniface in Evansville, and later, Holy Rosary in Evansville, and finally, Blessed Sacrament in Oakland City and St. Bernard in Snake Run.

Sprinkled amongst his parish duties were just “a few” other assignments. He was a teacher at Mater Dei High School, and later the head of its Religion Department; he was superintendent of Washington Catholic High School; Director of Liturgical Music at Magister Noster Seminary; Director of Continuing Education of Clergy; Director of the Permanent Diaconate and Secretariat on Worship; and Diocesan Director of Worship and RCIA.

As I mentioned at the outset, many of us know Fr. Deering from his music. As he has so many years previously, Bill led our choir this evening at the Alumni Reunion Mass. Two of the pieces we sang were written by him – the psalm response, “Blest be the name of the Lord forever and ever,” and the song at the preparation of gifts, “Holy Mary.” Fr. Bill got his music training here at Saint Meinrad, and he has given back from the gifts he’s received. As a young student in high school, he was handed a trombone and a music book and told to learn it. He did, and soon thereafter he taught himself to play the piano and the organ. He hasn’t stopped playing since.

But Fr. Deering has influenced the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association through more than his music. He has spent 18 of his 49 years as a priest as a member of Saint Meinrad’s Alumni Board. Twice, he served as President of the Board.

Nor does Fr. Deering’s influence upon the Alumni Association stop with his service and leadership on the Alumni Board. In 1992, he and Fr. Meinrad Brune organized and led the first Saint Meinrad Alumni Association Tour to Switzerland, Austria and Bavaria. Since then he has organized four other European tours and accompanied alumni on those trips to, among others, Spain, England, Scotland, Italy, and Hungary. Hundreds of Saint Meinrad Alumni, Oblates and Friends have benefited from Fr. Deering’s work on the tours.

Fr. Deering also left a deep impression upon Saint Meinrad College. During the 1970s, he taught courses on the Hill. He would return annually in the late summer to provide an entertaining twist to college orientation. His rendition of a radio sports announcer’s play-by-play of a Dubois County basketball game will linger long in the memory of many Saint Meinrad collegians. And annually, for years, he was the emcee for the “Sounds of Spring,” reveling in the talent of the performing students, including yours truly, a solo vocalist, whom he would invariably introduce as “The Rick Ginther Trio,” to the great confusion and delight of all present when I walked onto the stage – alone.

As a member of the Alumni Board of Directors, Fr. Bill helped to start the Alumni Enrollment program, which sought to involve alumni in recruiting students for the college seminary.

One of his fellow priests from the Diocese of Evansville wrote this about Fr. Deering’s influence upon his college days at Saint Meinrad: “Fr. Bill Deering’s whole life is a witness to his love and dedication to God and the Church. His teaching at Saint Meinrad College has left an indelible mark on my life. His love for his brother priests is exemplified in his ministry to priests and his support of seminarians. His love of liturgy is without compare. He is a faithful and loyal supporter of Saint Meinrad.”

In 1986, he helped to produce an audio cassette titled “Sounds of Saint Meinrad,” which put together on tape several memories of Saint Meinrad over the years. Selections included everything from Archabbot Ignatius Esser’s talk on Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message, to the “Dilecte Martyr” processional march used for the Feast of St. Meinrad, to a song called “The Glory River” performed by the 1970s college group, “The Couriers.” The cassette was given to alumni who made a gift to Saint Meinrad that year. In 1988, Fr. Deering was back again to help produce another cassette, aptly titled “Sounds of Saint Meinrad Volume 2.” The second edition provided traditional Marian and liturgical hymns, as well as other recordings from student groups and hymns sung at Alumni Reunions. No other gift has ever garnered as many donors in a single year as that Sounds of Saint Meinrad Volume 2 did.

In 1998, Bill received news that no one ever wants to hear. He was diagnosed with leukemia and soon began a series of treatments at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Evansville. Those were not enjoyable days. Fr. Bill was very ill. But the darkness of those days and the sickness Fr. Deering endured served as an inspiration to others. One such person inspired by Fr. Deering was a woman named Julie Kagno. She was a horse racing jockey whom Bill had come to know through his favorite pastime – serving as “chaplain” at Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky.

Julie had begun running and exercising to stay in better condition for her occupation. When she heard of Fr. Deering’s illness, she joined the “Leukemia & Lymphoma Team in Training” to raise money for leukemia research. To help Fr. Deering and others with his deadly condition, Julie ran the Anchorage, Alaska Marathon and personally raised over $5,000 for leukemia research.

Julie is not the only one Bill Deering has inspired with his life of service and love of God and the Church. In nominating Fr. Deering for the Distinguished Alumnus Award, these are a few of the words written of him by fellow alumni:

“Fr. Bill epitomizes what the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award should be: a person who has given of his talents and his service to the Church and to his alma mater in countless ways. His personal faith, eternal optimism and good cheer bring Christ’s presence to all he meets.”

“He is an outstanding priest who has given generous service and support to Saint Meinrad in many ways: on the Alumni Board and as its President, through his involvement with the orientation program which set the tone for the School’s new students, and through his enthusiastic leadership at the annual Alumni Reunion Masses. He is a great ambassador for Saint Meinrad and its work.”

“Bill strikes me as a whole person – truly humble, holy, and joyful.”

Fr. Bill loves God. He loves people. He loves music. He loves life. He is a leader, a survivor, a gentle soul, a loyal friend, a Saint Meinrad “lifer,” and a good priest. Fr. Bill has given back generously to Saint Meinrad from what he has received.

And that is why, as a fellow liturgist and musician and President of the Alumni Association, it gives me great pleasure this evening to recognize Fr. William J. Deering as the 11th Distinguished Alumnus of the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association.

Photo used with permission from The Catholic Foundation of Southwestern Indiana.
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