Willian L. Gillespie

Br. William Liguori Gillespie cfc (1935-2011), a dearly beloved 2004 Bat Kol Alum, died, RIP. His funeral took place on May 31 at 11.00 (GMT) in Hale Barns, Manchester. He will be remembered for his gentle spirit.


William Gillespie was born in England in 1935, his parents being of Irish extraction. He joined the Congregation of Christian Brothers in 1950. Following the usual formation programme he taught in several of the Brothers’ school in England. For many years he was Provincial of the English Province, when he displayed remarkable support for the Brothers’ mission in Liberia and later in Sierra Leone. On his retirement from being Provincial he immediately went to work in West Africa.


The last ten years of his life were spent in Zambia.


[The following is an abridged tribute paid to Liguori by Br Seamus O’Reilly cfc, District Leader, Mater Dei District, ZAMBIA]


"In my life as a Christian Brother I have been blessed to live with some truly beautiful men. William Liguori Gillespie was one of these men. Liguori was kind and gentle, patient and occasionally impetuous, consciously laid back and nervously anxious, compassionate and courageous, understanding and caring, interested and encouraging, inquisitive and wise, trusting and trustworthy, friend and brother.


Some years ago I visited a maritime museum in Greencastle Co Donegal and one section of the museum is dedicated to the Gillespie family who were river pilots on Lough Foyle. One photograph in the museum shows “Black Jack Gillespie” who is the image in stature and pose of our brother Liguori. When I returned to Lusaka I began to jocosely address Liguori as “Black Jack Gillespie poet patriot and pilot” Liguori would give a wry smile but deep down he was immensely proud of his family and he delighted in the fact that we would pay homage to his ancestors.


Liguori’s father spent most of his life as a captain in the British Merchant Navy. Liguori always spoke of his father with great affection and he often related two stories about his father. The first was that his father as captain of the ship always went into the galley after a meal to thank the cook. The second was that he often saw his father kneel on a chair and pray in the evening time. Liguori was always most gracious for any service rendered and he was a man of prayer.


Liguori loved study and teaching. He recalled happy days in Cambridge when the well known Australian Br Irenaeus McCarthy would cause bedlam in the community by asking outrageous questions of the then community leader. Liguori loved teaching and was a fund of knowledge. He once made what I considered to be a profound statement. He had been pulled aside by traffic police for a very minor traffic offence. In the course of his exchange with the police officer he announced “Rules are for the guidance of the wise and the obedience of the foolish.” I asked him who he was quoting and he told me he made it up himself. I was impressed but I don’t think the policeman was.


Liguori loved sharing his knowledge with young people. During his years in Lusaka he taught Scripture to young religious. He was intent on revealing to young people that Jesus was a Jew. He loved to celebrate Jewish meals and rituals with his students so that he could convey to them the real meaning of Jesus’ message. He also attended the Jewish synagogue here in Lusaka on a number of occasions.


He had extraordinary patience with the poor and the sick. Every day he visited the bedridden AIDS sufferers at Mother Teresa’s hospice in Lusaka. He spent hours with them. He read them newspapers He held their hands and he prayed with them. He provided them with an experience of kindness and compassion.


Liguori was also impetuous and impatient. As a young man he longed to be the ideal Christian Brother but alas he was conscious of fragile areas in his life. Impetuously he endeavoured to meet and speak with Chiara Lubec the foundress of the Focolari. However a minder of Chiara prevented Liguori from having a conversation with her. He did however meet and talk with St Padre Pio whose only comment to Liguori was “ pazienza, pazienza”.


Liguori loved Africa and Sierra Leone Liberia and Zambia in particular. He had a deep respect for African culture and on at least one occasion he encouraged Brothers to beat out a haunting African rhythm on individual drums as they sat in the community oratory and allowed themselves to be embraced by the loving presence of the Divine.


Liguori was basically a simple man. His material needs were small although he had a wonderful curiosity for new ideas. He was a tremendous listener and was very life giving to people he accompanied on their spiritual journey. I had the wonderful privilege to live with him. I was absolutely certain that he was my friend who would celebrate with me by sharing a glass of whiskey and could cry with me when we had occasion to share our pain and our brokenness. He was a true brother of Christ of Edmund Rice and of each of us. We retain vivid life giving memories and we are most grateful to his parents and his brothers and sister who generously gifted us the sons of Blessed Edmund Rice with Liguori."


News of Liguori’s death: "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you this evening - Liguori died this evening in Wythenshawe Hospital. He had been out for the day with his sister Margaret, visiting his brother in Alsager. He got into difficulties in Altrincham and called me. There was a paramedic assisting him when I arrived and an ambulance then came and took him to the hospital. They were working on him all the time but eventually they had to give up in the A&E. Brother William Liguori Gillespie was buried in Dunham Lawn Cemetery, Altrincham, Manchester, following Mass in Hale Barns Church on Tuesday, 31 May."


May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Scroll to top