Purple Heart Recipient, Middle Village Native Priest, Dies in Philadelphia

Father William DeBiase, O.F.M., a professed Franciscan friar for 59 years and a priest for 54, died on April 11 at St. Ignatius Nursing Home, where he had lived since last year.

Father DeBiase was born on May 1, 1932, in Brooklyn. He was baptized at St. Margaret’s Church, Middle Village, and after attending elementary school there, he graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 1950.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951 and served in the Korean War as part of the 32nd regiment, 7th infantry, until 1954.

Father DeBiase was present during the battle of Pork Chop Hill, which took place from March to July 1953. For his service, he was awarded a Purple Heart, which he received earlier this year.

After returning home, he studied pre-law for two years at Fordham University in New York City.

On July 14, 1959, he was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, New Jersey, where he professed his first vows one year later.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University and studied at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, New Hampshire, as well as at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C.

On Aug. 22, 1963, Fr. DeBiase professed his final vows at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany, New York, and on March 5, 1966, he was ordained to the priesthood at Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.

Father DeBiase’s first assignment was to Japan, where he spent nearly 28 years. He served also at a leprosarium in Calcutta, India, during a sabbatical year, and in Jerusalem. Since May 1996 he was stationed at different friaries in the United States.

A Memorial Mass will take place at a later date, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

6 thoughts on “Purple Heart Recipient, Middle Village Native Priest, Dies in Philadelphia

  1. A truly wonderful Friar, good friend and war hero. I’ve know Fr. Bill for over 40 years and had a strong friendhip with him. We first met in Japan and bonded immediately both being New Yorkers. His glass was always half full. You felt better after being with him. He led a full life and seeemed to cherish every day. He was always up and in great spirits. His passing is a loss for all his fmaily and friends and most especially the Friar community he so loved. God Bless Fr. Bill and now you get to enjoy his company.

    1. Fr William DeBiase

      I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of sympathy notes. There will be a memorial mass once we are out from under this virus.

      Deacon John DeBiase

  2. Hello Deacon John!
    Father William talked about you so much I feel like I know you although we have never met. My family and I have know Father Willlam for over 42 years. He has married our children and baptized our grandchildren over the many years of our close friendship. Father William may have mentioned my name as the crazy woman who has organized the Tokyo Chapel Center Reunions in his honor and even freed him from St. Ignasious for lunch at Applebee’s. 😃
    When Father Mike called me on Holy Saturday to give me the sad news of Father’s passing I got a note out to our group mailing suggesting that we all might like to remember Father with a gift of support to St Francis Ministries. We will miss Father William, his laugh, his smile, his always positive nature, his intelligence and his ability to touch lives in such a compassionate way.
    When it is possible to have the memorial mass for Father William several of us from his Tokyo days would like to attend. And in his honor we would collectively like to give something to St. Margaret’s Church or St. Margaret’s School in his name. I would like to discuss the possibility with you at some convenient time. Thank you and God Bless!
    Marilyn Torrens

  3. A great American, a great friend, and above all a great priest. he was an inspiration to all our family, having baptized our youngest and said the marriage Mass for two others.He always took time to talk with people, listening to their problems and spreading good cheer.He was a true Franciscan, down in the dirt helping the sick and poor. He never promoted himself, but an illustration of his life of prayer and good deeds might well help motivate young men to join the Order.

  4. I first met Fr; Bill in Tokyo at the Franciscan Chapel Center. He was outside after Mass and I introduced myself and he immediately asked me where I was from. Well it turns out we both grew up in Middle Village on opposite sides of Juniper Valley Park. We formed an immediate friendship and I chaired several bazaars for the church. We kept in touch for years afterward and when he was stationed near Albany we would meet in Newburgh at Denny’s for coffee. He was the real deal. Rest in Peace my dear friend in the arms of our Dear Lord.

  5. I also met Fr William in Tokyo where I worked with him at the Franciscan Chapel. I had the pleasure of helping him learn a new accounting system to help him with his treasurer’s duties. I’m not Catholic, and yet, he had an enormous influence in my life. Our family life was difficult while in Tokyo. I benefited from the spiritual and practical counsel from this kind joyful priest in so many ways – with a revolting teenager and an unhappy period in my marriage. I later met up with him in Atlanta when he was there speaking on behalf of Catholic Charities. He was always giving of himself – unselfishly! What a true man/servant of God. I know my life has been blessed by having just brushed by him on my life’s journey. I’m sure he is even making Heaven a better place if that is possible.