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Franciscan Father Paul Williams, former pastor of St. Joseph’s in Wilmington, dies at 70

Father Paul Williams, OFM

Franciscan Father Paul Williams, formerly the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church on French Street in Wilmington, died unexpectedly on Jan. 3, according to a post on the parish website. He was leading evening prayers with the other friars at St. Camillus Friary in Silver Spring, Md., when he died, according to the parish. He was 70.

Father Williams served in Wilmington for more than seven years until the Franciscans left Wilmington in September 2020.

According to the St. Camillus Parish website, Father Williams was born in nearby Alexandria, Va., and was baptized at St. Joseph Catholic Church there. He graduated from George Mason University before entering the Order of Friars Minor in August 1975. He made his solemn profession in 1980 and was ordained to the priesthood in May 1986.

He was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, and a year later was named pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, S.C., where he served for 15 years. He then moved to Columbia, S.C., as pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church, and to Anderson, S.C., before being assigned to Wilmington. He also served as vicar to African-American Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston, S.C.

“My whole experience here has been very fulfilling,” Father Williams told the Catholic Miscellany upon his departure from South Carolina. “I fell in love with South Carolina and the Catholic community here.”

He received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross Medal from Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

According to an article published by the Franciscans’ Holy Name Province shortly after his arrival in Wilmington, Father Williams adapted quickly to his new home.

“I take some comfort in the fact that just being here a month, I’m finding that Wilmington is a southern town. The city has its own southern charm. I believe the ministry here will be very fruitful,” he said.

In addition to his pastoral duties, Father Williams also celebrated Mass at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution in New Castle and worked with a local Protestant church for the Ulster Project, which brings teens from Northern Ireland to Delaware each summer. He was also the director of the Ministry for Black Catholics and a member of the diocesan Vocations Admissions Board.

He made news a few months after his arrival in Wilmington when he was approached by an armed man who took the priest’s keys and stole his car. The car was recovered later the same day and a suspect arrested. Father Williams said the incident would not deter him nor the parish from its ministry.

According to the St. Camillus website, Father Williams had requested to be assigned to St. Camillus when he was ordained, but that did not happen until 34 years after he began his priesthood. He was a parochial vicar, or assistant pastor, at St. Camillus.

Services will take place at St. Camillus Church on a date to be announced. Burial will be in the friars’ plot in New Jersey. Donations in his memory can be made to the St. Francis Emergency Fund at St. Camillus Church, 1600 St. Camillus Drive, Silver Spring, Md. 20903.

If you would like to ride the St. Joseph’s parish bus to the funeral, please contact the parish office at (302) 658-4535 or email parishsecretary@stjosephfrenchst.org. Seats are available on a first-come basis. Masks are required for all passengers.