Re-printed with permission from Councillor Michael Phair of the City of Edmonton, Alberta ….


This is the story of an evangelist who shows compassion and willingness to break new path for believers to follow  …





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Bill Irwin: man of exceptional courage

AIDS house a reality, thanks to Father Bill



The Edmonton Journal

September 2, 2004


CREDIT: John Lucas, The Journal, File

Bill Irwin, the Edmonton priest who founded Catholic Social Services, died on Aug. 30 at age 76 from complications related to Parkinson's disease.

There are many wonderful things that will be said about Monsignor Bill Irwin, but for me it was his courage to act that defined the mutual trust and friendship that we had for each other, a Catholic priest and a gay politician.

Before my entry into politics in the 1980s, I had met Father Bill when he was CEO of Catholic Social Services and I was an employee of the provincial government. My job entailed the funding of a program that Catholic Social Services participated in, but my interaction with Father Bill was primarily at formal occasions.

In 1984 I became involved with responding to the advent of HIV/AIDS in Edmonton. As a volunteer I helped organize the AIDS society and spent time and energy handling media and advocating for education about HIV and support and care for persons infected.

Twenty years ago, HIV was seen as a "plague" visited on gay men. The 1980s were a period during which many health-care workers would not treat persons infected, many religious groups described HIV and gay men as outcasts and "deserving of this disease," and many citizens were afraid of persons who were HIV positive or were gay.

For me personally, this was an extremely busy, challenging time and a bit frightening.

In early 1986, the Canadian national media ran a number of articles about the development of housing facilities in Toronto and Vancouver for persons dying of AIDS. I was quoted locally as saying that there was a similar need in Edmonton and as a new organization AIDS Edmonton was hopeful of responding to this need in the future. The truth was that our organization did not have the finances, expertise or history of providing housing!

A couple of days later my phone rang at my government office and it was Father Bill. He called to tell me he had read my comments on housing for persons with AIDS and wanted more background. With his assistance, I set up a couple of meetings with organizations like Catholic Social Services that provided housing. This work led to outlining the issues and solutions for housing persons with AIDS.

Through his contacts and knowledge Father Bill realized that little if any funding would be available for an "AIDS House," so he decided that Catholic Social Services would take this on and announced it publicly at the agency's kickoff to its fundraising campaign.

And it happened! About a year later, Catholic Social Services opened its first AIDS house and shortly after I visited the facility, the staff and the persons with AIDS living there.

I was overwhelmed. Father Bill's initiative took great courage and I understood that better than most.

Michael Phair, councillor, Ward 4, Edmonton

© The Edmonton Journal 2004

































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