There’s a legal beagle in Fr William Michael

Fr. William Office

Rev Fr William Michael grew up in Selayang, where his parents still live. He is the middle child; both his older sister and younger brother are married with children.

Monday, his off day, is almost always spent with his parents, having lunch with them and being updated by his mother on the happenings of the previous week. Then he enjoys the luxury of a post-lunch siesta.

“It has been 11 years since I was ordained as a priest. I thank God for this. I am aware of my brokenness and limitations, and I am grateful to God that I have been called to be his servant,” he says.

“I am happy to be a priest, happy to work in the tribunal. I like what I do. Interestingly, Canon Law was not my favourite subject in the seminary.”

Six years ago, Fr William was asked by the archbishop to further his studies at the Faculty of Canon Law, at St Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. In 2013 he was accredited a JCL or Juris Canonici Licentia, the equivalent of a Masters in Canon Law. His tribunal work carries the title Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

 “I deal mostly with annulment processes. Consent makes marriage – we say ‘I do’ thrice – but what happens if it is a flawed consent?

“To put it briefly, for individuals who want to marry again, they can come to see us to annul the first marriage. But there is a process and certain requirements that must be met before the first marriage can be annulled or dissolved,” he explains.

His job description includes meeting couples and witnesses for interviews to ascertain if the marriage should be annulled.

God calls

Fr William said he was 17 years old when he “felt the call of God”.

“Deep within me I felt that God was calling me to this way of life. I come from a very traditional Catholic family. I was active in church. From young we used to pray the Rosary as a family. My father especially instilled in me a love for God, and a love for the Church,” says Fr William.

He, however, pursued a diploma course in IT at Systematic college and went on to work at Skrine and Co, one of the largest legal firms in Malaysia, for three years.

When he sent in his resignation in December 1995 to go to join the seminary, his bosses at Skrine, perhaps sensing the potential in him, offered to send him to study law, after which he would be bonded to the company for five years.

He declined, and in the following year commenced his seven-year formation programme at the College General Major Seminary in Penang.

Mysterious ways

The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways. Here is Fr William Michael’s account of how things fell into place when he decided to give his life to God.

“After completing my studies at the seminary, I had decided to take a two-year break. After one year ‘outside’ I found that I liked the working world.

“Then there was a telephone call. It was (the then) Archbishop (Tan Sri) Murphy Pakiam. Are you coming back or not? he asked. I said I wanted to work for a bit. I had wanted to take my bonus first, and then leave. He said, you either come back or not. I said ok and jumped on the bus back to KL. I didn’t resign, however. I still wanted to keep the job.

“But God had pre-destined priesthood for me, despite my shortcomings. It was not that I didn’t want to come back – I was serious with my prayer life, I went for regular confessions and all. But as [the late] Archbishop [Emeritus Tan Sri Dominic] Vendargon used to say, ’The bishop is the voice of God’, and I took that – ‘I want you to come back’ – as the voice of God.”

Soon after this Fr William was assigned to his first posting at the Church of the Holy Family, Kajang.

When asked to tell us something not many know about him, Fr William says that he is by nature an introvert.

“The Church of the Holy Family has some 7,000 parishioners. As an introvert crowds make me uncomfortable. I have a good circle of family and friends. I am friendly, I like meeting people but I like to keep to myself.

“But I realise that a priest is a public figure. You have to be present. And yet I like the quiet.”

Daily prayer routine

Fr William’s favourite saint is St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day falls on October 4. He says he is very intrigued by this simple man, and had initially planned on joining the Franciscans, but Rev Fr Anthony Naden advised him back in 1994 to instead sit for the entrance exam for diocesan priest.

Fr William’s favourite Bible verse is John 3:16, “Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” (The Jerusalem Bible)

Besides the Liturgy of the Hours, which as a priest he is obliged to keep, Fr William receives much joy visiting the Blessed Sacrament.

“It is my favourite time to be with the Lord. I like to just sit quietly, and gaze at the crucifix and the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t usually sit after mass but late in the evenings or early mornings. I also have a devotion to the Three Hail Marys.”

The Rosary is also the glue that keeps families together, says Fr William.

“The times we are living in are challenging. It’s a very competitive world. Everyone wants to be at the top. From where you live to where you study, and the latest gadgets, we have become very status conscious,” he said.

“I want to go back to the old saying – the family that prays together stays together. Praying together is the foundation for a good Catholic family,” he said.

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Postings

Fr William’s first posting was to the Church of the Holy Family, Kajang, where he was the parish priest until 2011.

Then he was sent to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Klang, as an administrator for two months. By August of that year he flew to Canada to study Canon Law.

He returned to KL in 2013, and the following year served at St John’s Cathedral as assistant parish priest alongside parish priest Rev Fr James Gnanapiragasam. Fr William was also working at the marriage tribunal.

In 2015 he was posted to St Anthony’s Church, KL, for 10 months before he moved to do full-time tribunal work.

Fr William will be in CDM as parish administrator until end of the year.

Note: This article originally published by Media & Communications Team of the Divine Mercy Church, Shah Alam.