"My favorite part about being an Augustinian is sharing life with my friar brothers and being with people during different moments of their lives," Father Bill Gabriel, O.S.A, M.Div. CLAS ‘14 said. “Helping to celebrate precious moments like baptisms and weddings is very humbling.”
This week, Fr. Bill offers Villanovans a glimpse into his journey to becoming one of the youngest Augustinians at the University.
Born and raised a Roman Catholic in Dover, New Hampshire, Fr. Bill felt a calling to religious life at the young age of eight. While his family attended weekly, Sunday Mass together at their Diocesan parish, Fr. Bill noticed that a new priest had taken over as the Pastor. The priest was an Augustinian Friar from Merrimack College in Andover, Massachusetts, and, although he was sent for only a temporary position as the parish’s Pastor, he ended up staying for around 12 years, revolutionizing Fr. Bill’s parish.
“There was something about his vibrancy, his joy that was just so contagious,” Fr. Bill said. “He empowered the parish to take ownership of religious education, service and the Masses. He just really made the parish something that people wanted to be a part of and feel connected to.”
Fr. Bill recalls the moment he felt a calling to religious life. While sitting with his family at Sunday Mass, eight-year-old Fr. Bill nudged his father sitting beside him.
“I tugged on my dad's sleeve, and I said, ‘Dad, I am going to be that guy,’” Fr. Bill said. “I was pointing to our parish’s new Pastor, the Augustinian Friar. My dad looked at me, very surprised, and then asked me why. According to my dad, I gave him two reasons: first, I told him that the vestments that priests wore were super cool, and, second, because the priest inspired people.”
As Fr. Bill grew older, he realized that there were other vocations in life that would allow him to pursue his passion of inspiring people such as becoming a teacher, coach, parent and more. However, becoming an Augustinian priest like his Augustinian hero growing up remained in the back of his mind. Fr. Bill felt that although he could be happy in any vocation that allowed him to inspire people, there was something about the Augustinian Friars and the priesthood that always intrigued him.
“I felt as though a voice was telling me that I could be even happier if I became an Augustinian priest,” Fr. Bill said.
In 2014, Fr. Bill graduated from Villanova with an undergraduate degree in Theology. He lived in Stanford Hall on South Campus with a random roommate, attended class and ate at Donahue Hall, commonly referred to as The Spit. Similar to how many freshmen struggle with the transition to college life, Fr. Bill questioned if he had made the right choice in coming to Villanova. In summary, he had a normal freshman year of college full of ups and downs.
However, one Sunday night, as he walked to the St. Thomas of Villanova Church to attend a student Mass, Fr. Bill was welcomed by Brother Michael Duffy, O.S.A. After introductions, Brother Michael remarked at how Fr. Bill looked like he was an upperclassman, as if he had been at Villanova for years, not just a month. This surprised Fr. Bill given that he was only a freshman. Before parting ways as the mass started, Brother Michael left Fr. Bill with one last comment.
“You look like you’re home,” Brother Michael said.
Fr. Bill felt as though this was a true sign from God to stay at Villanova and remain open-minded about his vocation.
After graduation, Fr. Bill taught high school Theology and coached basketball in Delaware. After much contemplation and study, Fr. Bill joined the Order of St. Augustine in 2015 through the formation process. During formation in the Villanova Province (East Coast), he met many Augustinian Friars including Father Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D who served as the Provincial of the Midwest Province. They keep in touch and have remained friends and brothers ever since.
During many of the seven years in formation, Fr. Bill attended graduate school to study Theology and Ministry in Chicago, as those who are called to be an Augustinian Friar and priest often do. On June 26, 2021, Fr. Bill was ordained an Augustinian priest, and he accepted his first assignment as the Parochial Vicar, commonly referred to as the Associate Pastor, for the St. Thomas of Villanova Parish. Although Fr. Bill is not employed by the University, he stays well connected given the amount of students and parishioners that attend Mass.
"I am so deeply nourished by the faith, sense of community and vibrant celebration of Villanovans at the student masses on campus," Fr. Bill said. “I come away so energized and grateful to God to be able to be a part of the Villanova community.”
Given his recent Ordination this past summer, Fr. Bill will celebrate his first student Mass on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.
To those who are interested in pursuing a vocation to religious life, Fr. Bill encourages them to pay attention to two things.
“First, pay attention to your own experiences of feeling alive,” Fr. Bill said. “Second, pay attention to the affirmation of others. If doing these two things has helped you listen to a greater calling from God and to investigate religious life, it’s time to give it a try. You aren’t making a commitment on Day One, so just give it a try.”
Lastly, Fr. Bill is a true fan of the new television series, "Ted Lasso," and he recommends Villanovans watch it for a good laugh.