I was with Fr. Bill in the last weeks of his life and also at the moment of his death. He died in my arms. I wish to share with you how it happened.
On February 23, 2008 we blessed a new house in Uganda, we went for a retreat to Tanzania and then again we met in Uganda. Fr. Bill was supposed to go for a popular mission to Gulu, which is a city on the border to Sudan. It is a very complicated place with civil war and a lot of violence. The journey Entebbe – Gulu is more than 400 km on bad roads. I wanted to buy a flight ticket for Fr. Bill for Sunday but they called me from the airport on Saturday evening informing me that just a small plane would go to Gulu on Sunday and all the seats had been sold out. I suggested cancelling the program in Gulu. Father Bill looked at me and said: "You can tell me anything, but never ask me to cancel a popular mission or a retreat!" And he asked me to drive him to Gulu. I hesitated because I did not know the way, I just knew how bad the roads were. However, Fr. Bill insisted. He said: "Let´s go!"
We drove a big jeep. We left at 11 a.m. and reached the place at 8 p.m. Nine hours without a break. Four hundred kilometres, up and down. When we arrived, the organizers welcomed us and they took us to a stage. In front of the stage some three hundred thousand people were gathered, they sang and clapped hands. I brought Fr. Bill right below the stage and showed him how to climb the stage. He went up to the stage and again and again he looked back at me. Then he asked me to join him on the stage. He told the people: "I have brought you a young priest. He will preach." I looked at him surprised: "You told me to drive you here, not to preach. I have never preached to such a big crowd!" When I looked at the ocean of people, I started to shiver. Father Bill said: "Don´t worry, you´ll manage!" So I did and after the blessing we went to sleep.
On Monday we had a wonderful sleep and then a nice program in the evening. On Tuesday morning we went to a local hospital where Fr. Bill was asked to pray for the sick people. More than 500 sick people gathered there and Fr. Bill told them: "One day all of us will die, be prepared for that day!" People made a long face. I started to sweat. I thought to myself: Why is he speaking like that? Actually he is telling them: get ready! Death can come any time! And Fr. Bill continued: "I am already old so I brought you a young priest, he will heal you." Then he went to the ICU and asked me to approach all the sick people in the hospital and to bless them. I accompanied Fr. Bill to the ICU – there was one man on the bed and Fr. Bill prayed for him. In two days the dead body of Fr. Bill would lie on the same bed.
On Wednesday we were invited to a convent. There were 85 religious sisters and every year one of them got paralyzed. The sisters thought there was some evil there. When we reached the convent, the sisters asked Fr. Bill to celebrate a healing mass for them. Fr. Bill promised to bless all the rooms and to celebrate the healing mass. And he told me: "Let´s go, let´s celebrate a healing mass!" When I was putting on my stole, he told me: "Anthony, you´ll celebrate the healing mass!" I became afraid: "I don´t know how to celebrate a healing mass yet, why are you doing this to me?" But he made me celebrate it. I did not know at all how to do it. I celebrated a good holy mass, Father Bill was very happy and the sisters, too. Then Fr. Bill asked me to bless all the rooms of the sisters and also their land of 80 hectares. I agreed. Some sisters carried barrels of water and they gave me a big aspergillum and I sprinkled everything and in the evening I could not even move my hand. Around 10 p.m. we visited Radio Maria and Fr. Bill told them he brought a young priest who would preach tomorrow. Again I got afraid – I had never talked on the radio before. But Fr. Bill told me to keep quiet and we returned home.
In the evenings I usually massaged Fr. Bill´s legs. I did it in that evening again, but my right arm was in pain after the long exercise in the convent so I massaged him only with my left hand. Fr. Bill asked me to be more gentle, but I was in big pain. Legs were followed by arms and I stayed with Fr. Bill until 6 a.m. on Thursday. I massaged him all night long. When I left the room, I heard him vomiting. I came back and found out that it was really true. I thought he had malaria. He was in Tanzania before and there malaria is widespread and people with malaria vomit, shiver and they have a headache. I wanted to take Fr. Bill for a blood test. He complained about burning on his chest. He did not want to go to a hospital, but I forced him.
We left at about 10 a.m. A university program was scheduled for that day, but I cancelled it because Fr. Bill did not feel well. We reached the hospital and the doctors were happy. Four of the five doctors were from Europe. I mentioned everything Fr. Bill complained about – pain in his legs, arms, chest and vomiting. They took his blood and tested it for malaria and typhoid and then they brought various devices. When Fr. Bill noticed it, he looked at me accusingly and said: "You told me we went for a blood test so what were they doing with me?" Doctors found out that Fr. Bill´s blood was in order, but he was very tired, so they ordered him to stay in the hospital for two days. When Fr. Bill heard it, he got up from the bed and shouted: "Anthony, I told you not to take me to the hospital! As soon as any doctors get me, they find all possible sicknesses with me!" The doctors urged Father to stay in the hospital, but Fr. Bill said: "Let´s go!" So we left the hospital. Fr. Bill told me on the way: "When I die, you have to build a house for me in Masaka." And again, the same way as many times before he asked me: "Will you take care of me when I grow old?" I told him: "Yes, don´t worry, I will take care of you." He told me: "I want to die as poor people in Africa do." He took me to a village and asked me to take a few photos. When the poor people saw Fr. Bill, they got afraid and ran away because they could not understand why Fr. Bill came to their place. But he assured them and told them: "Don´t be afraid, I am here for you!" They rejoiced from the depths of their heart. And Fr. Bill visited their houses. It was just a few hours before his death.
When we came back Fr. Bill was very tired. I replaced him in preaching and I came back around 9 p.m. Fr. Bill was still in his room. Doctors and nurses were there with him. Around 10 p.m. he asked: "Have you been on the radio?" I replied: "How could I go there if your condition is like this?" He said: "Go!" So I went there and preached something for one hour, I don´t remember at all what it was. I came back around midnight. Only one nurse was there with Fr. Bill. I told her I was very tired, I would get one hour´s sleep and come back. As soon as I entered my room, the nurse knocked at my door and asked me to come back because Fr. Bill was extremely exhausted. I saw how he was sweating, the sweat dripped from his head as if someone threw water on him. He asked me to open the window. It was raining outside but he was hot. He sat on his bed, asked for a cup of water and said: "Jesus, I´m dying, Jesus, I´m dying." I wanted to take him to the hospital but he refused. However, he had severe pain on his chest.
I rushed out to the car and when I came back, Fr. Bill pronounced his last words: "Let me lay down." His last words: LET ME LAY DOWN. I genuflected in front of him and begged him: "Father, please, let´s go to the hospital!" He did not want to. I called the nurse and asked her to help me to carry him to the car. We put Fr. Bill on the seat and I drove him to the hospital. We did not talk. We were completely exhausted. There was a very bad road and as it was raining we did not know where the road was. I supported Fr. Bill´s head with one arm and I used the other one for driving. In about 10 minutes I felt how his head dropped onto my arm. In that very moment it was as if something got disconnected, as if I lost something. I stopped and checked his breathing. I did not feel any breath, so I checked his chest and found his heart beating. I drove fast to the hospital, doctors were already waiting for me and they took Fr. Bill to the ICU. Still I hoped he would be fine, I thought he was just exhausted and I planned to take him to a different hospital in Nairobi.
Around 2 a.m. the doctors came, they called me and said: "Father Bill left us for eternal glory." I did not expect it at all. I could not believe it and I got afraid. I was alone there in that village, no one could help me, I did not know the language of that tribe and I did not know what I would tell my congregation. I took a healthy man to Gulu and he died on the way. I thought I would get a heart attack, too. People from the hospital knew Fr. Bill and they cried when they learned Fr. Bill had died. Then people told me: "Take heart! You are alone here, you have to announce the death of Fr. Bill to the world!" I told just two people about it – one priest in Entebbe and my superior in India. Then I took my phone and kept calling. I received a special strength to arrange what was necessary. Father Bill died early on Friday morning, on Saturday his body was embalmed and on Sunday he was brought to Entebbe. We laid his dead body down at the Miraculous Medal Shrine and people from all over the world came and Father Bill had a really royal burial. He is resting at the Entebbe shrine and many people come to pray here and ask him for his intercession.
When I think of Father Bill, I always remember his appeal: "Be holy! The world needs holy priests." He advised all young priests like that: "Be good, be holy. And God will do everything!"