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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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in memoriam
Sunday

Rev. Bonner: deep suffering, deeper spirituality

After many years of suffering from various illnesses, Redemptorist Father William (Dick) Bonner died Sunday, April 13, at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He was 73 years old.

Born April 3, 1935, he was the son of Joseph and Florence Campbell Bonner. He attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Boston, MA, and, even before he was considered old enough to serve at the altar, he came to love attending daily Mass.

After his eighth-grade graduation, he was accepted at the Redemptorists’ St. Mary’s Seminary in North East, PA, where he studied for six years. He completed his studies for the priesthood at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY, making his first profession of vows in 1956 and his final profession in 1959. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 18, 1961.

Father Bonner’s first assignment was to St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis, MD, where he served from 1963 to 1965. He was then assigned to Our Lady of Fatima Church in Baltimore, MD for the next three years. In 1968, he returned to his home parish, serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church) from 1968 to 1975. While there, he undertook full-time hospital ministry.

In 1975, Father Bonner was asked to serve in the then Vice-Province of San Juan, where he was stationed for three years in Mayaguez, three years in Caguas, and three years at San Lorenzo. Father Kevin Moley, a former Vice-Provincial of San Juan and later Baltimore Provincial, recalled that Father Bonner "was a pretty dedicated and hard-working guy." He was interested in every aspect of Redemptorist life and especially prayed for vocations, Father Moley added. "He was a man of strong opinions about everything and, even when he was sick, he never opted out of the discussions; we were certainly going to hear his opinions!" Father Moley said.

Father Bonner returned to the mainland in 1984, assigned as rector to St. Boniface Church in Philadelphia, PA, for the next three years. In the summer of 1987, he was sent to St. John Neumann Residence in Saratoga Springs, NY. It was about this time that he began to be plagued by one health problem after another, beginning with diabetes and, in 1988, with cancer of the lymph nodes. In 1996, he was feeling well enough to be assigned to Mount St. Alphonsus Retreat House, where he served as chaplain to the Redemptoristine Sisters, whose monastery is on the same property. He moved on to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Manhattan in 1999 and encountered what the rector, Father Francis O’Rourke, described as "a really tough time." He developed ulcers on his feet and cataracts on his eyes, Father O’Rourke said. Then, in 2000, Father Bonner underwent open-heart surgery and suffered ensuing complications. In 2005, his right foot became infected, his kidneys functioned at only a 37 percent capacity, and his left leg had to be amputated above the knee. "This January, he went into the hospital for dialysis, he was put in IC (Intensive Care) twice, and he kept bouncing back, until all his systems just shut down," Father O’Rourke said.

Father Moley noticed that during these years of suffering, Father Bonner grew more deeply spiritual and Father O’Rourke noted that he was in the chapel a lot, celebrating Mass, praying his office and the rosary. "I have great admiration for the way he accepted all the sicknesses he had," said his confrere Father John Devin. "Especially after the diagnosis of life-threatening cancer, I saw he had a very, very deep spiritual transformation. He became extremely present before the Eucharist in his later years." Not known as one to give up, Father Bonner became "our one-legged giant," Father Devin added. The fruits of that spirituality were shared with others. Brigid Tracy, a nurse/practitioner, said she met Father Bonner two years ago, when he was undergoing rehabilitation after the amputation. "He was an excellent patient and an inspiration to others," she said. "Even the nurses’ aides would ask me about him after he left here, because I would visit him at 61st Street. I’d try to see him at least once a week and whenever I needed to have a Mass said, I’d just call him," she added.

Up until the end of his life, Father Bonner continued to minister to others. Marilyn Povodator, who met him when one of her family members was undergoing rehab at the Jewish Home and Hospital, wrote her impressions of her "good friend": "From the first day I met him, I witnessed the powerful effect he had on others. I saw how he invited men and women, especially the newcomers, to sit with him at a long table in the dining room. I saw how he encouraged every patient to talk about themselves, their fears and their hopes. I saw how he made each person feel they were special to him. After meals, he would hang around so others could have a one-on-one with him.

"After Father Bonner was discharged, my cocker spaniel, Buddy, and I would visit with him at his home on 61st Street. It warmed my heart to see the pleasure he got from Buddy’s adoration of him. During our ongoing phone contact and e-mails, Father Bonner would always ask about my work and family. He would offer emotional support, share his insights, something I looked forward to and greatly respected. He was always spot on!"

 

Rev. William R. Bonner C.Ss.R.

  • Born: April 3, 1935
  • Professed: August 2, 1956
  • Ordained: June 18, 1961
  • Died: April 13, 2008

 

Services

Arrangements in Brooklyn, NY
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
526 59th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Viewing Wednesday, April 16
3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Vigil Mass 5:00 p.m.

Arrangements in Boston, MA
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Mission Church)
1545 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
Viewing Thursday, April 17
9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Funeral Mass 10:30 am