June 23, 2007
By GREG BORDONARO, Courant Staff Writer
The Rev. William McGrath, a classical scholar who became an admired parish priest in Hartford's North End during the urban riots of the late 1960s, has died at 86.
McGrath, who went on to serve 15 years as co-pastor at St. Christopher Church in East Hartford, died Monday at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.
He took on the role of a peacemaker in the North End in 1968 when he became associate pastor at St. Michael's Church in Hartford, said the Rev. James Fanelli, who served for many years with McGrath at St. Christopher Church.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, McGrath opened up the church's community center to activist groups, such as the local Black Panthers, demonstrated against the exploitation of migrant farm workers and fought for quality education for those who couldn't afford it, friends recalled.
"He worked very hard fostering justice and racial understanding," Fanelli said. "He would do everything possible to bring people together."
In 1980, McGrath, a Hartford native, went to St. Christopher Church, where he served for the next 15 years.
Family and friends remember McGrath as a priest who devoted his life to helping others in need and creating a sense of understanding and compassion among people.
"He was a very warm, optimistic, cheerful, faithful person," Fanelli said. "He was very much committed to his role as priest, as well as service to others - especially the poor."
McGrath was a graduate of the Sulpician Seminary at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he earned his degree in theology and philosophy.
He was ordained in 1947 by Archbishop Henry J. O'Brien and given his first assignment at St. Patrick's Church in East Hampton.
In 1948, McGrath went to St. Thomas Seminary where he taught Greek and algebra for 13 years.
His former student and longtime friend, Joe Sheehan of Marlborough, described him as a gifted teacher who could translate "complex subjects in a very pithy manner."
His humor and optimism is what many parishioners remember him by.
"People often remarked about how he had a wonderful smile on his face," Fanelli said. "It lifted people up."
McGrath is survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Noreen and Alfred Granato, and his sister-in-law Constance McGrath, all of Wethersfield.
Calling hours will be held today at Farley Sullivan Funeral Home, 34 Beaver Road in Wethersfield, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Sunday, McGrath will lie in state at St. Christopher Church from 3 p.m. to 7p.m. His funeral will be held at St. Christopher Church on Monday at 10 a.m., followed by burial at Mount St. Benedict Cemetery.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at