Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Friends Reflect On A Beloved Deacon

By DEACON LARRY CASEY, Special To The Bulletin | Published December 14, 2006

The faithful of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Blairsville were deeply saddened by the loss of their friend and spiritual leader, Deacon William Diehl, who died Aug. 11, following a painful battle with cancer.

He is survived by his wife Marie, son Robert, daughter Kelly and granddaughter Kasey.

Deacon Bill was a professed member of the Secular Franciscans, a lay order devoted to living life with the Franciscan spirit and charism, and his spiritual union with his two favorite saints, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, was matched only by the union of love he had for Marie, his wife of 40 years. It was only fitting, then, that Deacon Bill’s death occurred on the feast day of St. Clare.

Brothers and sisters in the Secular Franciscan group from the surrounding areas came together at the Mountain View Funeral Home after Deacon Bill’s death to celebrate a Franciscan wake service in his honor.

Deacon Bill was ordained in 1992 for the Archdiocese of Miami where he and his family lived from 1961 to 1996. He was a member and officer of Plumbers Local Union 519, as well as a business representative for the Dade County School Board Maintenance Committee. The family moved to the Blairsville area in 1996, following Deacon Bill’s retirement, and he was assigned to the parish of St. Francis after being incardinated into the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

In addition to his liturgical duties, the deacon took over the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults program at the parish, a role he had played in his parish in Florida. He was responsible over the ensuing years for the conversion and baptism of many into the Catholic Church.

Deacon Bill’s true love was ministering to the sick, dying and homebound. He considered bringing the body and blood of Christ to those unable to attend Mass a special privilege, and no one who called for his assistance was ever kept waiting, regardless of the time of day or night. He often disregarded his own medical problems in his concern for others.

John Paul McGuire, a friend, fellow Secular Franciscan and diaconate candidate who was greatly encouraged by Deacon Bill’s example, said, “The first thing that comes to mind with Bill is total devotion. He was a completely loving and devoted man: devoted to his dear wife Marie, devoted to living the holy Gospel, and in this vein a servant of Jesus Christ and his Church, his parishioners, and all humanity. Bill did this in a matter-of-fact, efficient, workman-like manner. No fanfare. He never attracted attention to himself. I am sure Our Lord loved that about him. He was always there for those who needed him.”

Many who saw Deacon Bill only on weekends at Mass had no idea of the extent of his ministry. The reason for this is easily explainable: He never sought nor even thought about recognition for his work. It wasn’t his style. He lived the words of St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Use words when necessary.”

McGuire said that his friend’s leadership in their lay organization was immeasurable. “Bill was one of our professed leaders in the fraternity, and he taught the orientees, like me, all about St. Francis, Franciscan spirituality, and how to put it into action in our lives. But as I got to know Bill, I saw that he really taught about St. Francis by living a life like St. Francis, which is to say a Gospel life—the life of Christ: of eucharistic devotion, to Mary our Mother, of constant prayer and action … he lived simply a life of loving sacrifice for others.”

As a deacon in formation, McGuire particularly remembers his friend’s guidance and encouragement. “He took a special interest in me, and truly loved me as a brother. This was so evident and clear to me time and time again. He gave me numerous tapes and little booklets that he would put aside to give me the next time he saw me, and I appreciated it so much. … He was always teaching me something important. But I think the greatest gift Bill gave me, and there were many, was his wisdom of his incredibly strong marriage. … Deacon Bill was the model deacon, servant, for me.”

Never asking for special treatment or favors, Deacon Bill simply, without question and with an abundance of faith, did the work he believed the Lord was calling him to do. The only thing he requested, as his illness progressed to the point where he could no longer attend Mass, was to serve as a deacon for one more Eucharist.

One week before his death, his request was granted. His pastor, Father Richard Wise, came to the Diehls’ home, and the deacon was helped into his alb and stole. Father Wise began Mass with Deacon Bill standing at his side. It took every bit of strength left in his body, but he endured to the final blessing. His face shone with joy as he was helped back into bed.

Deacon Bill’s funeral Mass was celebrated at the church on Monday, Aug. 14, by Father Wise and several priests, assisted by several deacons. The Knights of Columbus color guard was in full regalia to honor their brother Knight, who had served as a Grand Knight of the Blairsville council. The church was filled to capacity with the hundreds, many from other faiths, who came to show their love for this deacon who so often showed his love for them.

Deacon Bill Diehl will be missed by all who knew him, who believe firmly that he was greeted by the Savior he loved so much with those joyful words, “Welcome good and faithful servant.”


Contributing to this story was Mary Anne Castranio.