Everyone has a moment in history which belongs principally to him. It’s a moment when emotions achieve their most powerful sway. In my case, it was a moment when God said to me, you need to do something different with your life.
I’m Bill Harrington. I’m married to an exceptional and outstanding woman in Joanne. We have three children – Michael, Christopher and Lauren – and four grandchildren.
I was born 71 years ago in Detroit. I’m one of 5 children, an older sister dying 9 days after birth. So I was the oldest. I have two younger sisters, one of whom passed away several years ago, and a younger brother in Houston.
We were all raised Catholic on the Eastside of Detroit and attended Guardian Angels. In 1952 we moved to a new subdivision in Birmingham and were members of Holy Name Parish and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. In 1953 my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer and in 1956 passed away at age 34. We did all of the things Catholics did in those days – attended parochial schools, dressed to the t’s for Sunday Mass, prayed the rosary together at home, even watched Bishop Sheen on our new black and white television. And I became an altar boy.
After my mother died, my two sisters and I moved back to the Eastside and in with our aunt, uncle and cousins and went to St Matthew. My father and brother rented a small flat and attended St. Juliana.
Two years later, we got back together when my father bought a home in Grosse Pointe Woods. We attended Star of the Sea and I continued my altar boy career.
I was in the first graduating class of Star of the Sea and signed-up for Austin where I was introduced to the Augustinians and St. Clare. I graduated from Austin in 1963, went to John Carroll University for one year, and was politely asked to leave when I discovered that one had to study in order to succeed in their pre-med curriculum.
So, being out of school and out of money, I went to work for one year and discovered again that I did not like digging ditches, cleaning out drain tiles and operating a jackhammer repairing Wayne County’s potholes.
I then enrolled in Wayne State, got my degree, and began my automotive career.
It was during these years that my Catholic faith and upbringing took a back seat to ambition and my
type A personality way of doing things.
I progressed up the success ladder fairly quickly, attaining what I considered to be a dream job. I was single, living on Pan Am (for all the youg people, that was one of America’s premier airlines), flying all over the world but responsible for a territory that James Michner wrote about in one of his books,
the South Pacific
. I put on conferences in Bali and Kuala Lumpur. Demonstrated Jeep products throughout Australia and New Zealand. Even New Caledonia, Fiji and Tahiti were my responsibility and I was there once or twice a year.
I was living large and Jesus Christ was not even close to being in my rear view mirror.
In 1981 I met Joanne and in 1983 we were married. We moved into our home on Bedford and became members of St. Clare. Christopher was born soon thereafter and Lauren a year after that.
In the meantime, I made a career change, became a VP at a start-up company, and 2.5 years later was let go shortly before the company failed.
I decided then that I was never again going to be put in a position where someone controlled my life so I decided to start my own company because I wanted to be in control.
Owning your own company is not easy and it created a degree of stress and an uncommunicative relationship in our marriage. In the early 90’s, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, I was in
Russia for almost a month on a business mission. It was actually good to be there because trying to communicate at home was almost as difficult as trying to communicate in Russian.
Several years went on and our focus on children, school and sports became a good buffer.
Then in 1994, on a Friday evening, I was with a former classmate having some refreshments. I had left early, headed home and at Cadieux and Mack, crashed into a parked car. Although I wasn’t badly hurt, two cars were totaled and I was emotionally crushed.
The next morning I got up very early, took our other car, and drove to the site of the accident. I parked and prayed. I thanked God for protecting me, for not letting me veer over the center line head-on into another car. I thanked God for just having a few cuts and bruises and I listened to God tell me, Bill, your way is not working very well.
I decided at that point to place God and Jesus Christ in a more prominent place in my life. And I started by going to Mass every morning so I could physically put myself in a place where I could readjust my mind and my heart.
Every day I sat over by the St. Nicholas statue. And as time went on and I became a fixture there. One of the parish leaders at that time, Paula Miller, saw me and invited me to get involved in St Clare. So, I resumed my altar boy career that I continue with today. I became good friends with many of the Augustinians and came to appreciate what they did for us at Austin – committing to the education of testosterone fueled teenage boys. As a result, I today serve on the board of the NEW Austin and am part of the team that wants to assure that our children and grandchildren have a place to get a good, solid Catholic education.
I’m not the type of person that has read the bible forward and backward a dozen times, can quote scripture, has studied apologetics and can defend any Catholic faith related question. I still have to work on control and a “do it my way mentality.” However, God has blessed me with creativity, time and talent and I use it today in my daily life to try and make a positive difference at home and in this St. Clare community.