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May 21, 2017

40 years a priest, Father Stang blessed by wide range of ministries

Father William Stang, CPPS, at a Mass.

Father William Stang, CPPS, at a Mass.

By Caroline B. Mooney

RENSSELAER — Father William Stang, CPPS, who recently celebrated his 40th anniversary of ordination, seemed destined to serve at Saint Joseph’s College.

“I have been very blessed with a ministry that fit my abilities and allowed me to make a difference,” he said. “Along the way, I’ve learned to get out of the Lord’s way and remember that it’s not my will, but his be done.”

One of seven children born to James H. and Carmelita (Trick) Stang, William Stang was born on Jan. 25, 1950, at the Jasper County Hospital in Rensselaer. His father, then a student at Saint Joseph’s, couldn’t leave an English test when his wife was in labor. A priest kept vigil at the hospital and by the time the test ended, baby William had entered the world.

When he was 1 year old, Father Stang’s family moved to Dayton, Ohio. His grade school teachers were Sisters of the Precious Blood who helped to foster his vocation to the priesthood. They led him to the High School Preparatory Seminary in Canton, Ohio, which was run by priests of the Precious Blood community.

He wasn’t the first in his family to consider or answer the call to a religious vocation — his father had also attended Precious Blood Seminary, but left to join the Navy in World War II and then get married.

Father Stang’s paternal aunt, Dorothy Stang, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was formally recognized by the Vatican as a modern-day martyr after being murdered while serving in Brazil.

Before being ordained, Father Stang said the Precious Blood community “wanted me to take a hard look at my calling. I was sent to serve at a parish in Fort Wayne while working as an orderly in a hospital. I got to know a cancer patient, and told him I was thinking of becoming either a priest or a doctor. He and his wife said I should become a priest, because I was very kind to him.

“The man gave me the rosary he had prayed while in the hospital, and I still have it today,” he said. “That’s when I started to think that as much as I liked medicine, I could get a medical degree and come back to teach at Saint Joe’s.

“To me, to have a good life means helping others,” Father Stang said. “I tried to plug in where help was needed, with emotional and spiritual counseling and health care questions. Illness is bad in many ways, but often people working through an illness — their own or a loved one’s — become better people spiritually. Working in hospitals as a doctor with people is a special calling. I have remembered how people used their faith to deal with their situations and I can pass that on to help others.

“I truly believe we are here for the next world, which I think is a big help in getting perspective on illness,” he said. “I am grateful to bring a valid voice to help others.”

He received a bachelor’s degree from Saint Joseph’s in 1972, and a master’s of divinity from the Catholic Theological Union in 1977.

Father Stang was ordained on March 26, 1977, in the Saint Joseph’s College chapel, after which he started as a professor of biology at the school.

“I love teaching, and think God meant for me to be a teacher,” he said. “... It’s ironic that I had thought I wanted to teach high school, and was disappointed when I didn’t. But I know now that I can reach college-age students better.

“Teaching is not just a career to me, but a chance to serve. If you aren’t doing service, you won’t be happy,” Father Stang said. “You can have a good job, make lots of money, but the money isn’t the solution — it’s service to others. It’s like Jesus told us: If you worship a false god, you get what a false god gives you — nothing. It’s not bad to make money, it’s important what you do with it.”

He went on to receive a master’s degree in microbiology from Indiana State University in 1981 and a medical degree from Indiana University in 1987. 

While in medical school residency, Father Stang worked with a family practice doctor in Rensselaer.

“We went to a medical convention and he took me right to the Army National Guard recruiter, knowing I had interest in being a chaplain,” he said. “He told the recruiter that I could be both a doctor and a chaplain.”

Father Stang signed up and served in the Indiana Army National Guard from 1986-2011.

“I have found that the Lord gives me ministries that way — people know me, like the cancer patient and that doctor, and they head me in the right direction,” Father Stang said.

While still teaching at Saint Joseph’s, he trained monthly and in the summers for the National Guard.

“I really liked working with soldiers (or men and women) in the National Guard,” he said. “They are adults who have been in life situations and are ready to listen. The group was working to serve our country and did it well.”

He was mobilized to duty in victim recovery after a 1994 airplane crash in Roselawn, Ind., which killed 68 people; as Catholic support and deputy task force chaplain to the 101st Airborne and 3rd I.D. in Kosovo in 2001; as task force chaplain for the 38th Infantry Division in Bosnia and Kosovo in 2004-05; as task force chaplain for Hurricane Katrina in 2005; as Catholic chaplain support to the XVIII Airborne Corps in Iraq in 2008, and as Catholic chaplain support for Warrior Forge at Fort Lewis in 2010 and 2011. He was promoted to colonel in 2007 and retired from the Army in 2011.

“I was able to do a lot of good work in Kosovo and Bosnia, largely with soldiers and civilians who were suffering loneliness from home,” Father Stang said.

“The airplane crash in Roselawn was the hardest duty I ever did,” he said. “We thought there might be survivors, but no. Tracking and collecting remains was tough, but we managed to identify all the victims. Seeing parents of young men and women who died really sobered you up — with all my flying, I thought, ‘That could have been me.’

Father Stang’s leadership experience at Saint Joseph’s includes: 17 years as science division coordinator; 10 years as local director for the Missionaries of the Precious Blood at the college; serving on the college’s cabinet — several years as chairman, board of trustees and as assistant to the president; five years as biology department chair; three years as coordinator of Saint Joseph’s College Core program; head soccer coach, 1977-83; faculty advisor for the Gallagher Charitable Society; medical technology and pre-medical advisor; and co-founder of the Saint Joseph’s College chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

His teaching awards include: the faculty teaching excellence, the student association “Wooden Cask” and senior class “Scientia” awards. 

He also served as a priest in residence for students in Gallagher Hall. 

His National Guard service garnered awards including: Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation medal, NATO medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Citation, four campaign ribbons for service in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, the Adjutant General’s Staff Award and Indiana Meritorious Service Award.

“The Lord has blessed me by keeping things interesting,” Father Stang said. “I don’t like getting bored. I have kind of depended on the kindness of strangers and doing things for the right reasons, so the good Lord let me work it out.

“It’s a great thing that the Catholic Church has worked at helping laity in their role for the work of God. God has looked out for me through his people, which is a great thing for your faith. As I look back, I can see that God was there in different situations. When I had thought I had a plan, his plan was always better.”

As to the future, Father Stang is trusting in God. With the suspension of operations at Saint Joseph’s College, he is job hunting and hopes to stay in Indiana.

“My religious community is a fine group of men — they got me through the seminary,” he said. “We help each other and I appreciate the support. The community supported me in medical school and my military chaplaincy. I enjoy working with them, the good friendships and the good community. I am happy to be a member.

“The Diocese of Lafayette and the bishops have been very supportive and welcoming,” Father Stang said. “I have had a lot of bosses — from the prior of my order, to the bishop of the diocese, the president of the college, and the director of housing. But we are all under the same boss, the Good Lord.”

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