Father Wallace (or Father Bill as he prefers to be called) started as the interim Catholic priest in August 2014 at the request of Octavio Flores, Adjunct Professor of Spanish, after the previous Catholic Chaplain injured himself and needed to retire prematurely.
“In addition to being a priest, I’m also an attorney,” Father Bill said. “At the time, I was working as a Special Assistant Attorney General with the New York State Attorney’s Office in lower Manhattan. And I had to be in lower Manhattan first thing Monday morning, which meant after I celebrated mass [at Wesleyan] on Sunday night, I’d have to drive to the Bronx and then get up early to take the subway to Manhattan.”
Father Bill said that despite the commute, he could do the work as both a priest and attorney.
“I told him we could work it out,” he said. “And I began to work as the interim Chaplain all of last year, primarily on the weekends.”
During spring semester last year, Father Bill was asked to join the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life as the full time Catholic Chaplain. He agreed and retired from his job as an attorney.
“This was a good opportunity for me,” he said. “I was thinking about retiring from my legal position. I had been doing it for a long time and it was very satisfying, but 30 years was a long run.”
Father Bill’s move to Wesleyan also provided him an opportunity to interact with students.
“Before I started my legal job 30 years ago, I had worked at Merrimack College in North Andover and Villanova University,” he said. “So this represented [a] return to the world of academia for me. It’s a great opportunity to meet students and help them.”
Most of Father Bill’s legal career, he said, has been focused on helping those in need.
“I’ve been involved in helping senior citizens, people who have been victimized but who can’t help themselves–elderly people who might have been mentally and emotionally victimized,” he said. “That would mean going after the bad guys, investigating the complaints, prosecuting the defendants, and trying to make the victims whole.”
Father Bill said he had been interested in being an attorney since he was a child.
“When I was growing up in the Bronx, I knew I wanted to do three things,” he said. “First, I wanted to be a priest. I always felt the desire to serve God and serve God’s people in that particular profession. Second, I always wanted to be an attorney, a large part because my father was an attorney. I used to go to court with him once in a while and I saw it as another opportunity to help people.”
The third thing he wanted to do?
“[What] I wanted to be was center fielder for the New York Yankees,” he said. “But I had a bit of difficulty catching up with the 95 mile-an-hour fastball.”
Father Bill’s interest in being a priest, he said, originated when he was in middle school.
“I had thought about becoming a priest when I was in the seventh or eighth grade,” he said. “I was an alter boy and I was influenced by the Augustinian priests in my parish. I started thinking, ‘I like who these men are; they impress me—their dedication, their service.’”
There were a couple of kids from his grammar school that went directly into the Minor Seminary, but Father Bill felt that was too early for him.
“I thought I was too young, so I went to our Catholic high school,” he said. “And again, I was very impressed with the Augustinian priests who taught in my high school. By the time I was a senior, I had pretty much thought this is what God is calling me to do.”
As a Catholic priest, Father Bill has agreed to remain celibate, a decision he said was hard to make but one he believes was worth doing.
“I took it one day at a time,” he said. “There would be times when I thought it would be great to be married and have a family; I would have loved seven children. Starting five and two substitutes, you know, for a basketball team. But in all candor, I thought this was something God was calling me to do.”
Ultimately, Father Bill said that some of his most rewarding experiences have come from working with students. He believes the community of the Office Religious and Spiritual Life has a distinct purpose and presence of campus.
“It’s important for people to know there’s a spiritual dimension to life as well; we’re not just flesh and blood,” he said. “There’s a spirit aspect to who we are and those spiritual needs need to be addressed at times.”