Father Peter Y. Williams is known for his sense of humor; in fact, he has performed several benefit comedy shows at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Springfield, where he is pastor.

He gets some of his material from growing up as one of 15 children.

And that’s no joke; he is the sixth child born to David and Charlotte Williams.

He attributes his sense of humor to his mother. “My father loves to laugh at a joke, but he does not have a highly developed sense of humor,” Father Williams says. “My mother has a hilarious streak and a highly developed sense of humor.”

As a child, Father Williams could easily make his brothers and sisters laugh, and when he was trying to get adults’ attention, making them laugh was a sure thing.

Though he does not credit his father with his sense of humor, Father Williams credits him as the spiritual leader of his large family. A convert to Catholicism, Mr. Williams takes his faith seriously and taught his children to place their trust in God.

His mother — a stay-at-home mom — has a strong faith, but it was her husband who attended daily Mass either before going to work as a stockbroker or on his lunch break. He went to confession every few weeks and because of his example, family members received the sacrament at least once a month.

Mr. Williams was the one who called the family to daily recitation of the rosary, usually in the large family room. If any of the children who were old enough to participate were absent (sometimes pretending to be asleep) he would send one of the others to get them.

And Mass was a family affair for the Williams family. “We had the biggest station wagon, usually a Chrysler,” Father Williams recalls of his early years in the 1960s, before mini vans were popular.

Because the age range of the 15 siblings is about 20 years, there was never a concern about fitting everyone into the car as some were in college when younger ones were born. Like his brothers, Father Williams wore a tie and jacket to church, sometimes tying his shoes just before getting into the church. “My father would get in the car and say, ‘We’re leaving.’ It was a mad scramble. Did we have everybody?”

“God help the poor souls in church who were sitting in our pew” and got “nudged down” and sometimes out of the pew to make way for the Williamses, he recalls with a laugh.

Father Williams, 57, was born in Highland Park, Illinois, outside Chicago. His parents, both one of only four siblings, wanted a big family and thought a dozen would be fine.

“There were plenty of families that had eight, 10 kids,” he says, but his was the largest he knew of, and that pleased him. “We were fairly competitive,” he explains with a laugh. “When you have that many brothers and sisters, you always have enough for a couple of teams” when playing sports in the neighborhood.

The Williams children played outside when the weather was good; inside activities included cards and board games — they didn’t watch much television.

The chores were pretty much divided along gender lines: The eight girls helped their mother inside while the seven boys generally worked outside with Dad. When he was about 13, Father Williams realized he was handier than his father.

 

He also learned to make food for himself — and his siblings — if they were hungry between meals: grilled cheese sandwiches, soup and brownies, for example.

The family was always prolife, but the birth with Down syndrome of the 14th child “taught us a different perspective on life,” Father Williams says. “Perfection is not necessarily the goal. Being the smartest person doesn’t make you the happiest.”

The last Williams child was only a year old when spinal meningitis nearly completely paralyzed her. “Our faith made a difference. Our prayers made a difference” says Father Williams, who was ordained in 1987 and spent time ministering to the deaf.

Sometimes when he was a child he said he wished he were an only child, but he would not trade his large family for a small one now. “Some of my closest friends are my family. We share so much background and our faith.”

Originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.

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