Every year, the University’s Office of Disability Services awards the Father Bill Atkinson, O.S.A., Humanitarian Award to one individual, group or organization on the University’s campus that embodies the spirit and service of Father Atkinson. He was involved in an accident in 1965 which left him quadraplegic, and he unfortunately passed away in 2006, after teaching at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, PA for almost 30 years. Father Atkinson was the first quadriplegic to be ordained as a priest in the entire history of the Roman Catholic Church and made many strides in creating a more welcoming and accepting community for those with disabilities. His story and his dedication to living a life of helping others touched the hearts of many Villanovans. For this reason, the University now awards the Father Bill Atkinson award every year to keep his memory alive.
This year, the award was given to Father Dennis Weber. Father Weber serves as the Director of Ministry for Development Programs of Catholic Social Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and dedicates his time to advocating for the rights and correct treatment of individuals living with disabilities. He was awarded the honor on Thursday, Feb. 13 in an on-campus ceremony hosted by Villanova’s LEVEL club, a student group that seeks to bridge the gap and level the playing field for students of various abilities. The award event was part of the NOVABILITY Week celebration, hosted by LEVEL. Father Weber was also recognized during the Villanova men’s basketball game against Marquette University on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
The University’s Director of Disability Services, Dr. Stephen McWilliams, spoke about Father Weber saying, “Father Dennis [Weber] has had a major impact on the disability community throughout the diocese. His humility, compassion, and dedication to the service of others mirrors the values of Father Atkinson. Honoring Father Dennis is a fitting way to honor the memory and spirit of Father Bill.”
A University Alumni after graduating from Monsignor Bonner High School--the same school Father Atkinson attended --Father Weber has now spent the past 25 years of his life working with the Philadelphia and Delaware County’s population of individuals with disabilities. Currently, Father Weber serves as the Director of Ministry for Development Programs of Catholic Social Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and he has also served as the administrator for the Cardinal Krol Center, the Don Guanella School and the Divine Providence Village, facilities for persons with intellectual disabilities.
In previous years, award recipients have included Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, Eric LeGrand, Tom Rinaldi, Frank Kineavy and Nick Gaynor. Celeste and Sydney Corcoran are mother and daughter who survived the Boston Marathon bombing; LeGrand is a former Rutgers University football player who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in 2010; Rinaldi is an ESPN reporter, and Frank Kineavy and Gaynor both have cerebral palsy.
Father Atkinson is now being considered by the Roman Catholic Church for canonization, as he dedicates his life not only to bettering the lives of others but also upholds Roman Cathlic moral and values throughout. The University faculty, staff and students are all proud of the achievements of Father Weber, and his accomplishments in embodying the strong values that Father Atkinson also upheld.