September 25, 2009

Faithful Fathers: Would-be-missionary comes home to minister in schools and parishes

Father William Turner, pastor of St. Mary (Immaculate Conception) Parish in Rushville, stands in front of his parish’s church on Sept. 16. Ordained in 1975, Father Turner has ministered in Catholic high schools and parishes across the archdiocese. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father William Turner, pastor of St. Mary (Immaculate Conception) Parish in Rushville, stands in front of his parish’s church on Sept. 16. Ordained in 1975, Father Turner has ministered in Catholic high schools and parishes across the archdiocese. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

(Editor’s note: In conjunction with the Year for Priests, The Criterion has begun a new monthly feature titled “Faithful Fathers.” We plan to profile a priest from each deanery during the next 10 months.)

By Sean Gallagher

RUSHVILLE—Father William Turner is pastor of St. Mary (Immaculate Conception) Parish in Rushville. He was ordained in 1975 and is 62. Born in Indianapolis, he and his family were at different times members of St. Lawrence and St. Pius X parishes.

During his high school years, his family moved to St. Paul and would attend Mass at the former St. Paul Church there that, at the time, was a mission of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville.

Interest in the missions—As a youth, Father Turner was interested in doing overseas missionary work.

He was drawn in this direction, not through getting to know missionaries or hearing a missionary preach, but through reading.

“I read a lot of literature,” Father Turner said. “My mother subscribed to every Catholic magazine there ever was. And they had a million ads [about missionary orders].”

After graduating from high school in 1964, he joined the American province of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, commonly known as Missionhurst, a Belgian religious order that did missionary work in, among other places, Africa and China.

It was while he was studying as a member of the order at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., during the late 1960s that Father Turner saw the need for service in the United States, and eventually became an archdiocesan seminarian.

Among his other assignments, he would serve as the administrator of the former St. Anthony Parish in China, near Madison, in the mid-1980s.

“I guess that’s as close as I was going to come to a foreign land [as a missionary],” Father Turner said with a laugh. “I’ve never been out of the United States.”

Ministry in high schools—For the first 15 years of his priestly ministry, Father Turner ministered in Catholic

high schools in the archdiocese. From 1975-85, he was a full-time instructor at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. And from 1985-90, he was a full-time instructor at Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison.

“I loved the kids,” he said. “I loved teaching. I loved everything about high school.”

Father Turner said he would like to teach now, but could not do it full time and also have a parish assignment, which he often did while teaching.

“I would teach all week in school [at Bishop Chatard],” he said. “I took preparing lessons seriously. They had homework every night. I had 250 kids. I wanted to make it interesting for them.

“ … But I loved doing it because to see the kids and their reactions was very interesting.”

Parish ministry—In 1990, Father Turner became the administrator of St. Anne Parish in Hamburg, St. Martin Parish in Yorkville and St. Paul Parish in New Alsace, all in the Batesville Deanery.

Yorkville and New Alsace are only about two miles apart. But Hamburg was more than 20 miles away. And, at the time that Father Turner ministered at the three parishes, the parish in Hamburg was not on daylight savings time, but the parishes in Yorkville and New Alsace were.

“You tried to figure out the Mass times of the first two parishes and then you had to figure out one for one [parish] far away and in another time zone that takes you time to get to,” he said of one of the challenges of his ministry.

Nevertheless, in whatever parish in which he has ministered, Father Turner has found parishioners whom he encouraged to take an active role and become a good role model for others.

“A lot of times, they’re just waiting to be tapped, to be brought forward,” he said. “That’s always been my real challenge, to bring these people forward to lead the Church, to be examples for the Church.”

Ministry to the sick and dying—While Father Turner has helped people in the prime of life put their faith into action in the parishes that he has led, he also has found great satisfaction in ministering to those who are sick and, especially, to those who are dying.

In many cases, though, he has found that it is the friends and relatives of the dying who need more attention.

“The one who is going to die is OK [with dying],” Father Turner said. “But the family hasn’t quite reached that point yet. Sacrifice does have a purpose. Suffering does have a purpose. Jesus on the cross—there’s our purpose.”

Being a priest and encouraging vocations—Having ministered in several parishes at the same time for many years, Father Turner knows that many parishioners are in need of priestly ministry.

To those boys and men who might be thinking that God is calling them to the priesthood, he had a very clear message.

“You’re needed,” Father Turner said. “You’re needed badly. There are so many people that need your comfort, your consolation, your guidance, your visible sign of what Christ is all about—his love and care.”

(To see previous installments of “Faithful Fathers,” log on to

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