Father William Maher, O.M.I. was born and
raised in Chicago, Illinois. But he has spent the
majority of his life – nearly 48 years – in Japan. He is
one of 21 Oblates who live and work in the country,
including his brother, Fr. Thomas Maher, O.M.I.
who has been in Japan for 54 years.
Father Bill began his mission in Japan in 1962
as an Oblate Scholastic. He found his 6’3” frame
to be somewhat out of place in the Japanese world
built for much smaller people. He also struggled
to learn Japanese. But looking back, he has never
been sorry he went to Japan. He has found that
the Holy Spirit was always there when needed.
After ordination Fr. Bill was sent to the Island of Kyushu for one year as an associate
pastor. It was a very active parish and a good place to start his priestly ministry. It was located
next to a large American Air Force base where the Oblates assisted with pastoral needs.
One of Fr. Bill’s most memorable assignments came shortly thereafter when he was asked
to live in the rural area of Nakamura and build up the Oblate presence there. When he
arrived, he found just 26 Catholics. These parishioners rented an old Japanese house for him –
a tiny place that had only one chair and straw mats called ‘tatami.’ The home was expected
to be the place where he lived as well as the church in which he would celebrate Mass.
Father Bill was excited about spreading the Word of God in this area. While he
thought he was one of the only Christians in the area, he found on his first Sunday that
he was mistaken – there were two nearby Protestant churches. But because Japan has so
few Christians, there was still plenty of work for everyone. Every year the Catholic and
Protestant churches joined together to put on a Christmas program for the city. This practice continued for 15 of the 17 years Fr. Bill was in Nakamura.
Father Bill put a sign in front of his small house that read ‘Catholic Church’ – his
attempt to penetrate the society in which he was living. He found himself celebrating
Sunday Mass as well as teaching Bible and catechism courses. And as one of the few
foreigners in the area, he was asked to teach English as well.
He found teaching was not only a good way to meet people and provide for one of
the needs in the area – but it allowed him to support himself as well. By the end of his
seventh year in Nakamura the Oblates were able to buy land to build a church. After
three more years of work a combined chapel and house were completed. This was his
parish for the remaining ten years that he lived in Nakamura. Now his brother, Fr. Tom,
is the pastor of that growing parish.
After Nakamura Fr. Bill spent 8 ½ years at a more established parish, St. Paul Miki in
Tokushima, where the Oblates have worked for over 50 years. It is an active parish
where the people have very strong faith. Parishioners hold an annual prayer service for
peace in honor of those who died when the city was destroyed during World War II.
The Island of Kyushu was Fr. Bill’s next home. Here he worked with another
Oblate, Fr. Leonard Inui, O.M.I. who specializes in Montessori education. The Oblates
have opened six of these specialized schools for youngsters throughout Japan. The parish
in Kyushu, Our Lady of Peace, was established by the Oblates. It was also a very active
parish and Fr. Bill found his six years there to be very fulfilling.
Since 2003 Fr. Maher has been stationed
at St. Paul Miki in Tokushima for a second
time. He had the great honor of celebrating
with parishioners during the church’s 100th
anniversary in 2006. He finds his work to be
extremely satisfying and enjoys working with
the youth and the Sunday school program.
While the past 50 years have brought
many changes and countless challenges, Fr. Bill
Maher continues to look
forward to what the future
might hold. For now,
though, he enjoys his role
at St. Paul Miki. With the
help of the Spirit he hopes
to continue to enrich the
spiritual lives of his
parishioners in new and