Fr. William Joseph Lion passed away on Sunday, January 4, 2015, at Holy Family Villa in Palos Park. He was 83 years old and was Pastor Emeritus of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Oak Lawn.
Fr. “Bill”, as he was often called, was born in Chicago on November 10, 1931. He attended St. Nicholas of Tolentine and St. Rita Schools in Chicago and was a graduate of Quigley Preparatory Seminary. Fr. Lion graduated from the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary, where he received his Master of Arts and Bachelor of Sacred Theology degrees. Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago, ordained him a priest on April 12, 1958.
Fr. Lion’s first assignment was St. Agnes Parish on Pershing Road in Chicago (closed in 1991), serving as Assistant Pastor until 1963. He then moved to Queen of Angels Parish on Western Avenue in Chicago, where he served in the same capacity for six months. In 1964, Fr. Lion moved to Holy Ghost Parish in South Holland. In 1968, he was Executive Secretary of the Catholic Conference of Illinois and served until 1973, when his term ended at Holy Ghost Parish. That same year, Fr. Lion was named Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, serving in this role until 1982. During this time, he was a resident of Holy Name Cathedral.
Fr. Lion was also Co-Chancellor for Human Relations and Ecumenism, a Presbyteral Senate Member and a member of the Pastor’s Review Board at the Archdiocese of Chicago. He also served on the boards of the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race, the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council, the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities and Villa Scalabrini.
Fr. Lion was elected President of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors and was a member of the Fair Housing Committee in Oak Lawn. Additionally, he served as the Associate State Chaplain for the Knights of Columbus, Chaplain of the South Suburban Serra Club and a Coordinator for the Vatican Art Council of Chicago.
In 1982, Fr. Lion was named Pastor of St. Athanasius Parish in Evanston and served the parish for over six years. He then moved to St. Cecilia Parish in Mount Prospect and served as Associate Pastor for approximately nine months.
Fr. Lion was then named Pastor of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Oak Lawn, where he remained for over 12 years until he was named Pastor Emeritus in 2002.
Rev. Dennis Ziomek, Pastor of St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish in Oak Lawn, reflected on Fr. Lion’s many achievements, “Fr. Bill served not only the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago, but also the Church of Illinois. He was the Executive Director of the Illinois Catholic Conference from 1973 to 1982, providing Catholics of Illinois a voice in public policy.” He went on to say, “At St. Catherine, Fr. Bill was instrumental in addressing the finances of the parish, as well as showing great support for the school. Fr. Bill set a positive tone for the parish as he was succeeded by the late Fr. Pat Henry, and I am proud to be following in both the footsteps of Fr. Pat and Fr. Bill as St. Catherine’s current pastor.”
Rev. Edward F. Harnett, Pastor Emeritus of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette and classmate, had been close friends with Fr. Lion since 1949. Fr. Harnett said, “He was a passionate friend. If he was your friend, he was really a friend and we had a very strong friendship.” He went on to reflect, “Fr. Bill was a remarkable man with very good judgment. He carried many responsibilities for the Archdiocese, as well as the State of Illinois, and he always did so very confidently.”
Rev. Patrick O’Neill, Associate Pastor of St. Alexander Parish in Palos Heights, had been an altar boy at Holy Ghost Parish when Fr. Lion served there, “In addition to being an active parish priest, he was very much an executive priest, which was clear in his work at the Catholic Conference of Illinois, with the Knights of Columbus and the South Suburban Serra Club.”
Fr. Lion is survived by nieces and a nephew.
Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Chicago.