Father Bill East, a dedicated parish priest whose mastery of Latin led to him being asked to with the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) on the new translation of the Missal, died on Wednesday July 1 after a long illness.
Born in Maidenhead in 1948, his parents were travelling showmen, so early formal education happened between Guy Fawkes’ Night and Easter, when the family pulled in for the winter.
He became a boarder at Reading School and from there won a scholarship at Keble College Oxford and finally received his doctorate in Medieval Studies from Yale in 1973.
A brief academic career saw him lecturing in the English Department at University College Cork for four years. He published several articles and two study guides and had a special interest in the writings of Abelard and Heloise.
While in Ireland he became aware of a vocation and returned with his young family to St Stephen’s House, Oxford, to train for the Anglican priesthood. Two south London curacies preceded his 11 years at St Luke, Pallion in Sunderland, from 1983 to 1994.
He was then received into the Catholic Church along with his wife, Betty, and was ordained at Our Lady's in Acomb, York, and served in the parish before spending 18 years at St Joseph’s, Pickering.
Halfway through his time in the North Yorkshire town he was given the title of parish priest, rather than administrator and Betty said that small change meant a great deal to him.
ICEL executive director Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth said: “It is hard to adequately express our gratitude for the highly significant contribution Bill has made to our English liturgical texts.
“We were so very fortunate to be able to benefit from his complete mastery of complex liturgical Latin forms, wedded to his ease of style in creating English texts that were not only accurate translations but inspired encouragements to prayer.
“I was always so impressed by his gentle manner, his continual willingness to serve, and his powerful love for the Church and her liturgy.
“We pray that he is now welcomed into the liturgy of heaven, whose mysteries he served so well on earth.
“We also pray that Betty and the family will know the consoling presence of God at this time of Bill’s passing and the love and support of his many friends, among whom we count ourselves blessed to have been numbered.”
Father Bill retired from St Joseph's in May 2018 and grateful parishioners held a party in his honour.
During his time in Pickering, Dominican Publications published three volumes of his homilies, for the three-year cycle of readings.
In August 2019, Father Bill and Betty celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to London with family and friends, followed the week after by Mass at St Aelred’s Church in York, where Father Bill Serplus presented them with a papal blessing.
As much as Father Bill enjoyed the chance to use his skills in Latin for the ICEL work, his life centred on the daily round of prayer, celebration of Mass, visits to St Joseph’s School and work in his parish.
He loved Walsingham and was able to spend a week there in the year before he died. For several years he spent his summer holiday in Rethymnon, Crete, celebrating Mass at St Anthony’s, one of four Catholic churches on the island.
“It was such a sad moment when I heard Father Bill had died,” said Monsignor Gerard Robinson, vicar general of the Diocese of Middlesbrough.
“I spoke to him a couple of days ago and it was lovely to have a chat and for us to give each other a blessing as well and say we would keep each other in prayer.
“Bill was a true gentleman with a quick wit and it was always a joy if I knew that father Bill was going to be on retreat with the diocesan priests.
“We will miss him and our thoughts and prayers are with Betty, Bill’s sons and the whole family at this sad time.”
Father Bill’s funeral will be at St Aelred’s on Tuesday July 14. Due to the present situation, only 30 people will be allowed to attend and it will not be possible to have a concelebrated Mass at this time.
When the circumstances allow, a memorial Mass will be held for Father Bill at St Joseph’s. The Sunday morning Mass at Our Lady’s in York was offered for the repose of his soul.