Bill Storey taught me how to pray

Author: Mary Mullaney '73, '77J.D.

Bill Storey ’54M.A., ’59Ph.D. was arguably the best teacher I had at Notre Dame and one of the most influential people in my life. He was intelligent, opinionated, knowledgeable, sometimes irascible, outspoken, over the top, unforgettable.

Most of all, he was holy. He taught me how to pray. My parents, of course, had done that, and teachers along the way in Catholic schools. But Bill taught me about prayer as a young adult. I learned about the history of prayer in the church and in all religions. He taught me about union with the Divine. Because of him and a few other spiritual mentors at Notre Dame, I committed to Catholicism on my own, with no pressure. He made it joyful and something which I wanted to do.

Bill was an expert on the divine office, the liturgy of the hours, and he popularized the practice of morning prayer and vespers at Notre Dame. He taught Church History, mostly for theology majors, but also for curious law students like me who tagged along. With him and a few graduate students I studied 14th century British mystics, obscure people like Julianne of Norwich and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.

He held weekly seminars in his home where we read a book a week about some aspect of Church history. Every Holy Week he would lead a retreat at Old College and we attended Triduum services at Sacred Heart. We sang “Alleluias” like there was no tomorrow. We couldn’t get enough of what he had to teach us.

After leaving Notre Dame in 1977 I heard through the grapevine that Bill had left the church and no longer believed in God. Although I knew him to be strong minded and fiercely sure of his beliefs, I had a hard time accepting that this could be true. This was a man who had drawn many young people to God and taught them to pray. None of us, at least that I knew of, left God the way Bill purportedly had. I did not accept that this was Bill’s final chapter.

About 15 years ago I started to visit Bill whenever I was in South Bend. He had retired from Notre Dame and lived with his partner at the bookstore which they owned. He was the same Dr. Storey, regaling me with countless stories of this-or-that person or event in church history, showing me the latest prayer book he had just finished and sent off to the publisher. How could someone who didn’t believe in God keep on writing prayer books?

Over the course of the next 10 years, Bill’s spiritual journey brought him slowly back to Christianity. Congregational and Episcopal parishes welcomed and encouraged him, but the desire to return to the Roman Catholic Church proved too strong. He called a friend and asked to be taken to confession. He went. He returned to the Eucharist where his journey had begun.

Returning to the church did not settle all his disagreements or resolve all the hurts. But intellectually and spiritually he believed — he knew — that the True Presence of God existed in the Eucharist offered by the Catholic Church. He was hungry for that. He was starving for that. Whatever differences and pain he had with the Church, he seemed to live with for the greater good of having communion with God.

A friend and I brought him communion when he was sick. His body was in a state of impatient expectation and jitteriness as prayers were said. He licked his lips in anticipation, like a thirsty man awaiting a drink. When he had received the host, his body relaxed. He was calm. He was fed. We left him to his prayers knowing he was at peace.

He requested that at his funeral his friend, Father Phil Krill, tell people why he had returned to the church and why the Eucharist was the center of his existence. Phil recalled Bill’s conversion to Catholicism — on his own initiative — at age 12. He described Bill as being haunted by God, pursued by the hound of heaven. He was grasped by God at an early age and in the end, God brought him back to Himself in the Eucharist. He surrendered and allowed himself to be led.

At his funeral, I was asked to give the cup to those receiving Communion. Receiving the Blood of Christ was very important to Bill and I gave it to people with joy. Whenever I drink from the chalice, my eyes fill with tears and I am thankful to Bill Storey for having taught me how profound a mystery the Eucharist is.

I bring Communion every day to a friend who is dying of a neurological disease. Barely able to swallow, he still manages to receive. I pray with my friend using the prayer Bill Storey said at the beginning of every class:

“Heavenly King, Consoler, Spirit of Truth.
Present in all places, filling all things.
Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life.
Come and dwell in us.
Cleanse us from every stain.
And save our souls,
O Gracious Lord.”

Peace, Bill. Rest in God.

Mary Mullaney ’73, ’77J.D. practiced law, raised a family and now teaches reading at a low income school in Worcester, Massachusetts.