A Gentle, Humble Visionary
Fr. William Slattery, CM, a Gentile, Humble Visionary
Beneath a gentle and humble surface lies an extraordinary life of unwavering commitment and profound faith. While Fr. William Slattery, CM, may not be recognized beyond the Vincentian community, his visionary impact endures even today.
Fr. Slattery, known for his few words but immense actions, is remembered for his prayerful, cheerful, charitable, visionary, and passionate nature. His time as a Vincentian was legendary for the exemplary way that he lived his life.
GROWING UP VINCENTIAN
Fr. Slattery was born on May 7, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland, to Timothy and Catherine (Smith) Slattery. Becoming a Vincentian priest seemed predestined as the Daughters of Charity, a Vincentian-affiliate, taught at his elementary school.
Moreover, connections were present: uncle, Bro. Thomas Slattery, and aunt, Sr. Rose Smith, a Daughter of Charity.
BECOMING A VINCENTIAN
In 1915, Fr. Slattery entered the Vincentian seminary; four years later he pronounced his vows. Soon after, he pursued postgraduate coursework at the Collegio Angelico and attained a Doctor of Sacred Theology. Upon completing his studies, he served as the Director of Novices and taught philosophy and theology at the Congregation’s seminary.
SERVING THE EASTERN PROVINCE
In 1932, at the age of 37, members of the U.S. Eastern Province appointed him Provincial Superior. Among his most significant endeavors of his administration were the expansion and development of programs for educating young men for the priesthood. This included founding and constructing Mary Immaculate Seminary in Northampton, Pennsylvania. In addition, he replaced St. Vincent Seminary in Germantown and established Niagara University’s Our Lady of Angels Seminary. His new seminary structure led to enhanced courses of study and increased student enrollment.
Fr. Slattery authorized the construction of the Queen of the Miraculous Medal Chapel and recommended reorganizing St. Joseph’s College Seminary’s formation program. He also approved the expansion of classroom facilities. His visionary leadership additionally led to the purchase of more than 100 acres in Jamaica, New York, for St. John’s University. This decision paved the way for the institution to become one of the largest Catholic universities in the United States.
Fr. John Freund, CM, recalls his dedication to education and his students. “He had a profound passion for teaching philosophy,” says Fr. Freund, who knew firsthand of his mentor’s pleasure in sharing knowledge.
His governance expanded overseas with official visits to the congregation’s missions in Panama and China. He also visited the Spanish, Polish, and Italian base provinces. He founded new mission houses in Groveport (Ohio) and Toronto (Canada), and parishes in Jackson (Michigan) and Greensboro (North Carolina).
Notable among the achievements of his provincialship was the inauguration of the Miraculous Medal Novena Band, which was formed in 1937. The Band’s mission was to disperse Vincentian priests to assist pastors in initiating and sustaining a vibrant novena devotion in tribute to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The success of the Band is noted in its spread to 3,024 churches in Africa, Australia, Canada, Canal Zone, Central America, British West Indies, China, England, Ireland, Scotland, Hawaii, India, Mexico Republic of Panama, Philippine Islands, and Puerto Rico.
In 1947, Fr. Slattery traveled to Paris to temporarily serve as a consultant on the General Curia. The following year, at the age of 51, the Congregation’s General Assembly chose him to become its 19th Superior General. Consequently, he became the youngest appointee in 150+ years and the first American-born Vincentian. As the Superior General, he governed the Congregation’s 36 provinces and directed more than 45,000 charitable foundations worldwide.
Immediately, he focused on fostering cooperation among the provinces to address the challenges of the aftermath of WWII. Subsequently, he moved the General Curia from Paris, where it had been since the time of St. Vincent, to Rome. It was a monumental task and faced adversity based on its historical tradition of the Vincentian heritage in France.
Furthermore, Fr. Slattery reformed the congregation’s practices when he changed the Superior General’s term from lifetime to fixed-term tenure. This shift marked a departure from a longstanding tradition established since the time of St. Vincent. His visionary decisions brought about vital changes within the Congregation and played a crucial role in its future.
A HUMBLE SERVANT OF GOD
Those who knew Fr. Slattery often described him as reserved and disciplined complemented by a sense of humor. His fellow confreres jokingly remarked that one could set a clock based on his daily routine. “He established a pattern and an order of a day from which he seldom deviated,” recalled a Vincentian friend. “One could almost tell the time of day by where he was or what he did.” Recollections of him range from being a fantastic catcher in a ball game to a saint who practiced heroic mortification.
While not loquacious, Fr. Slattery was always cordial and a charming conversationalist, who was well-informed and possessed an impressive memory. Among his cherished possessions were his rosary, a statue of Mary, and letters from admirers and acquaintances across the globe.
Fr. Slattery’s life philosophy revolved around seeking the Divine Will through prayer and devotion. Many confreres remember him peacefully sitting in the community oratory in the Vincentian seminary in Germantown. He always had a book and a large magnifying glass, diligently reciting his morning prayers before the community gathered.
HIS FINAL YEARS
Even in his final years when he suffered from arthritis and crippling osteoporosis, Fr. Slattery quietly bore his physical suffering. Despite these afflictions, he was usually the first to arrive in the community chapel for morning prayer. He regularly heard confessions with a faithful clientele of penitents during the Monday Miraculous Medal Novena services 6:45 a.m. In August 1982, he entered eternal life.
At his funeral, Fr. Richard McCullen, CM, reflected on his devotion, compassion, and benevolence to God and Our Lady. “The presence of Fr. Slattery among us will be greatly missed—his genial kindness, his devout spirituality, his patient suffering in the midst of great physical pain. But it will be compensated for his constant intercession before [God] for [our] members, for the increase of ‘laborers in the vineyard’ to do [God’s] will.”
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