Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The death of William Hammill of Stratford, a colleague with whom I worked in a Bridgeport factory in the late ’40s, triggered recollections of how seminarians spent their summers in those post-World War II days.

Every June we used to apply for work to help defray college and theologate costs. In Bridgeport, work usually could be found in its many factories. And although I happened to have worked in a restaurant, as a door-to-door canvaser for the publisher of the City directory, as a starter and ranger on a golf course, and as a shoe clerk for many years (since high school: during Christmas time and vacations all the way into the theologate), my summers were usually spent in various factories.

(Chances for summer employment in Bridgeport during and after the War were enhanced if one knew how to run milling machines and drill presses. My "factory summers" in the eight-year seminary years included a brake manufacturer which utilized asbestos; a tool shop with a production job on a milling machine for army brakes; a cocktail-shaker plant in which exposure to fumes from a now-controlled cleansing chemical was inescapable; and Jenkins Valves.)

"Bill" Hammill was in charge of the tool crib at Jenkins Brothers, which manufactured valves of all sizes and shapes. His operational center was almost next to mine, in the rear receiving and shipping gate. (Sometimes we used fork-lift trucks to deliver or retrieve huge valves to or from their destined departments.) Bill, just three years older than I, had served in the U.S. Navy on the Battleship U.S.S. Alabama, which steamed into Tokyo Bay following the Japanese surrender. (I had just missed the War draft because I had not reached 18 in high school; many of my classmates were called up, however.)

World War II had been a major factor in forming Bill’s extraordinary character. Throughout the plant, he was highly respected as a solid leader, proud of the country he had served so faithfully, and as a Catholic witness to the values upon which this nation was founded, especially the innate dignity of every human being before God. Bill’s faith in, and loyalty to, the Church were known and admired by everyone in the shop; Bill literally lived and worked by virtue of the faith he embraced. In an environment that could readily deteriorate as to language, for example, or interpersonal activities, Bill was a veritable Rock of Gibraltar. Factory talk and interaction can easily become crude, as they say, but Bill kept everyone he could on an even keel.

Bill had a strong devotion to the Rosary; he used to make rosaries and send them to missions around the world. And he was a very strong supporter of Padre Pio, now canonized. (So many veterans of World War II became supporters of Padre Pio.)

Bill and I maintained a correspondence over the years. I was asked to officiate at his marriage after the death of his first wife. When he retired in 1987, he volunteered as a pastoral assistant at St. James Church, Stratford, where he attended daily Mass, made a daily Holy Hour and served as a Minister of Holy Communion for the ill. Sister Julie Horvath of the pastoral staff there occasionally alerted me to the various ministerial tasks he fulfilled for the church (including supervising its "garden for the poor"). It was Sister Julie who telephoned me about Bill’s death.

The last time I saw Bill was in October 1992 at Holy Name Church, Stratford, to concelebrate Mass with Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec. Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin of Hartford was there, of course, as well as Archbishop Renato R. Martino, then Apostolic Nuncio to the U.N., as well as Cardinal (then Bishop of Bridgeport) Edward Egan. Cardinal Korec, one of the greatest Churchmen of our times, was ordained a bishop secretly in 1951, when he labored in a chemical factory while his native Czechoslovakia was under Communist overlords. Bill Hammill was at that Mass also, making his usual Holy Hour.

During the late ’40s, a debate occurred (beginning in France and Belgium) about so-called "worker priests" to counter Communistic forces in the workplace. Eventually, the Holy See discouraged the experiment. From experience alone, I knew that what the Church needs most in the workplace is not priest-workers, but rather more men and women like Bill Hammill, who would lead more workers to Christ through priests and the Church.

There are such leaders in the workplace today, thank God: in factories, in department stores, in offices, courts, sports arenas and even in the halls of academia. This Labor Day should remind us to start praying for more of them.

Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.