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The Rev. William Callahan, progressive priest removed from Jesuits, dies at 78

Rev. Callahan was a Jesuit priest forced from the order in 1991.
Rev. Callahan was a Jesuit priest forced from the order in 1991. (Courtesy Of Dolly Pomerleau)
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Rev. Callahan's relentless work eventually led to calls for his removal from the Jesuits. After a 20-year history of activism in Washington, he was forced out of his religious order, formally known as the Society of Jesus, in 1991. He died July 5 at the Washington Home and Community Hospices of complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 78.

"Bill Callahan stood firmly in the Dorothy Day-Berrigan Brothers wing of American Catholicism," said Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist and friend of Rev. Callahan's. "Like them, he exemplified the Sermon on the Mount. It's lamentable that his Jesuit superiors didn't see it that way. They should have exalted, not banished, him."

Despite his expulsion from the Jesuits, Rev. Callahan's commitment to the Quixote Center and social justice issues remained.

"I do believe I am following the example of Jesus, who was never willing to shut up when preaching the good news to his disciples," he told The Post in 1989. He continued to work with the center until two years ago.

William Reed Callahan was born Sept. 5, 1931, in Scituate, Mass., a coastal town south of Boston. His mother died when he was an infant. His father sent him to live with his paternal grandparents, who were Catholic.

He joined the New England Province of Jesuits in 1948 and received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Boston College. He received a doctorate in physics from Johns Hopkins University in 1962 while he worked at NASA's Goddard Space Center on weather satellites.

In the late 1960s, Rev. Callahan taught physics at Fairfield University, a Jesuit school in Connecticut, before promoting civil rights causes for the Jesuits in Boston. In 1971, he co-found the Center of Concern, a social justice think tank in Washington that was supported by the Catholic Church.

According to his longtime partner, Dolly Pomerleau, whom he married days before he died, Rev. Callahan established the Quixote Center as a way to promote social causes independent of the church.

"He was perceived as a radical, and the center was seen as being on the cutting edge," Pomerleau said. "However, that wasn't the purpose, it was the result."

In addition to Pomerleau, survivors include three brothers and three sisters.

As the years went by, Rev. Callahan turned his attention away from opposing church policies and devoted his energies to raising humanitarian aid for impoverished people in Haiti and other countries.

When asked about losing his standing in the Jesuit order, he told The Post, "That is nothing compared to the daily threats of violence, death and economic ruin faced by so many."

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