We invite readers to send short stories about the ways in which their lives have been personally blessed by the life and work of priests and religious in our diocese.
By Karina Fabian
When William Greytak went to Carroll College, his plan was to study law. Then Sister Eugenia – a sister of the Dominicans of Germany whom he best remembers for her saving the food the men in the dorm would throw away and giving it to the poor – asked him if he’d ever considered being a priest.
That question would steer his life to a new path, one that has taken him around the diocese and across the ocean, delving deep into medieval archives and teaching languages he himself barely knew. And Father Greytak has enjoyed every step of the way.
Father Greytak was ordained in Belgium at the American College in the University of Louvain, where he attended seminary. It’s the oldest continuous Catholic college in the world, and he said they call the American College of Rome their “little sister.” Nonetheless, Louvain has the reputation of being more liberal thinking while Rome is more traditional. “It’s an interesting rivalry, but it’s also an important balance,” he said. He also had the honor of returning to Louvain to be rector of the American College from 1978 to 1983.
His first assignment upon his ordination, however, was teaching Spanish – a language he didn’t know! “In those days you didn’t question, and Carroll College needed a Spanish teacher, so I quickly learned Spanish,” he said.
Fortunately, he has an affinity for languages – in Belgium, the classes were in Latin and the local language was French – so he got a master’s in Romance languages and spent several years teaching Spanish and French.
He said he loved it, but was frustrated that Carroll College only required two years of language, which isn’t quite enough to get into the truly interesting aspects, like the literature and history of the language. Rather than devoting his career to conjugations, he asked to pursue an advanced degree in history.
The diocese sent him to the University of California, but he didn’t feel comfortable there. “It was the time of Free Speech, and there were a lot of protesters and picket lines. Being from Butte, you didn’t cross picket lines, so I knew I had to move,” he said.
Father Greytak went to the University of Colorado, where he got a master’s degree and a doctorate in European history. He was especially pleased to be able to research his doctoral thesis on the Constitutional Church during the French Revolution by researching in the secret archives of the Vatican and the archives in Paris.
While his academic adventures have been exciting, he finds just as much satisfaction in being a parish priest. He’s made it a point to assist in parishes wherever he was. He’s been all over the diocese, but ultimately, took on the parish at Wolf Creek. Later, he moved to St. Jude’s in Lincoln, then St. Thomas the Apostle in Helmville, and finally St. Catherine’s in Boulder.
He’s most recently proud of the incredible effort that the 90 or so families of his parish have made in building a pastoral center. “Until now, there’s hardly been anyplace to have wedding receptions or funeral receptions. It’ll meet the social and pastoral needs not just of our church, but the community. Nonetheless, we had to raise the half million dollars ourselves,” he said. And they did, through fundraisers and donations from community and religious agencies. The center should be done in April.
“The people of this diocese are truly a remarkable people. They’re so welcoming and appreciative and supportive,” he said. He felt that support very personally when he recently experienced a “brief bout” of cancer. He hadn’t realized he was ill, but others noticed he wasn’t doing as well as usual and kept asking him until he saw a doctor. He credits that along with the many prayers said for him during his chemotherapy for his recovery.
Father Greytak celebrates his 50th anniversary of ordination this year, and he has a lot to celebrate. And it all started with one German nun with the right question.
Published in the Montana Catholic, Vol. 22, No. 3, March 17, 2006.