P is for Priest: Home is where the faith is

Father Michael E. Williams is the priest of St. Thomas Acquinas on Western Kentucky University’s campus in Bowling Green.  He shares the church as a home with 15 college boys.  Williams said, “I love living at the church.  I can always easily go next door to find a hug or someone to hang out with.”

Trey Crumbie

Father Mike Williams does his best to connect to the students at WKU. He runs programs for college-aged youth at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Campus Center, and helps guide them.

But Williams has taken his outreach a step further by living with them under the same roof. The center is not just a place of worship, but a home as well.

What began as a result of financial constraints, Williams said, has grown into a close-knit community.

“Even though the financial reason was in my mind, probably more realistically, it’s because I wanted them to be close to church,” Williams said. “I wanted them to have the opportunity to grow in their faith when they’re in college because after college life gets way more busy.”

Williams said St. Thomas Aquinas owns the house next door to its premises and a dormitory-type building behind the actual church. Some men live in the house, and Williams shares the other building with five others.

“There’s two apartments where I live. I live downstairs and I have five students that live in the apartment upstairs.”

Williams said that a lot of priests don’t like living at church due to the lack of privacy.

“I’m not like that,” Williams said. “I love being around people all the time.”

Williams was born in Lexington, but raised in Cynthiana. He decided to become a priest in his mid-20s, and has been one for 15 years. He’s been the priest of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Campus Center since summer 2009.

Utica graduate student Andy Austin is one of the men living in the upstairs apartment of St. Thomas Aquinas. Austin said Williams is a wonderful role model to have around.

“He’s a dad away from home,” Austin said. “He’s the man to lead us down the right path.”

Williams said that the men are free to do whatever they want with the opportunity that they have to live in the homes.

“There are a couple of guys that live here that I barely remember what they look like,” Williams said. “Unless I’m really looking hard, I can go months without seeing a couple of these boys.”

Williams said some of the males are involved in everything.

“You can come in here — day or night — and find them studying, praying, playing — something,” Williams said. “And I think that’s made a big difference in their lives.”

Fancy Farm senior Scott Burch lives with Austin in the upstairs apartment.

“Father Mike’s character is what really sticks out to me,” Burch said. “His personality fits very well with this atmosphere…how he acts around us is what makes this place really much better.”

Mary Reding, the campus minister of St. Thomas Aquinas, said that Williams’ involvement extends beyond the men he shares the building with.

“He’s a great draw to students, no matter what their level of faith is or how connected

they’ve been to church in the past,” Reding said. “He’s just very comfortable in his own skin so he’s able to just connect with people.”

Williams said that making himself available to students in different ways is an important aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Campus Center.

“I think that part of the beauty of my ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas is just the ministry of presence,” Williams said. “There are a lot of students that come up here and study or watch TV or just hang out. I try to be present to them and encourage them.”

Williams said that he’s pleased with his living arrangements.

“I’m an extrovert. I’m a fun-loving kind of guy,” Williams said. “It’s great to have these young men around to occupy my time.”