MOUNT VERNON, Washington — Father William Treacy — who during his 78 years of priesthood helped cultivate interfaith understanding through a groundbreaking TV program and a globally known retreat center — died Oct. 16. He was 103.
A funeral Mass for the priest will be celebrated Oct. 29 by Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.
“He was the icon of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; seeking unity in the human family,” said Father Jim Dalton, a senior priest of the archdiocese and a close friend.
Born in County Laois, Ireland, on May 31, 1919, Father Treacy entered St. Patrick’s Seminary in Maynooth in 1937. He was ordained June 18, 1944.
He volunteered for a temporary assignment in Seattle, which was experiencing a clergy shortage while priests served as military chaplains during World War II. The priest arrived in Seattle in March 1945 where began a lifelong ministry.
During his long priesthood, Father Treacy served as pastor and parochial vicar for more than a dozen parishes in the archdiocese. He participated in Engaged Encounters for two decades, was vice chancellor for the archdiocese, and ministered as chaplain at Holy Names Academy in Seattle from 1952 to 1964.
In the 1950s and ’60s, he worked with the Knights of Columbus to place weekly evangelizing advertisements in newspapers across the state. In 1978, Father Treacy started a daily noontime Mass in downtown Seattle at Plymouth Church that continued for more than 40 years, and where he occasionally still celebrated Mass in his later years.
Father Treacy may be best known for his 14 years on “Challenge,” the ecumenical TV program that began in 1960, drawing thousands of viewers when it aired Sunday evenings in Seattle. The show brought together Father Treacy, Rabbi Raphael Levine of Temple De Hirsch Sinai and a rotation of Protestant ministers for interfaith dialogue on issues of the day.
In 1966, Rabbi Levine and Father Treacy purchased a 300-acre Skagit Valley farm to serve as an interfaith center known as Camp Brotherhood. Over the years, the center’s programs drew more than 250,000 people from around the Northwest and the world. When Rabbi Levine died in 1985, Father Treacy carried on the vision with the organization’s board.
The priest retired in December 2002 and seven years later moved to a small house on the camp property, where he lived until his death.
The organization he helped found was renamed Treacy Levine Center in 2014 and more recently “Paths to Understanding,” a group that continues interfaith and unity work through lectures, meetings and media, including a new show, “Challenge 2.0.”
When Northwest Catholic profiled Father Treacy in 2019 on his 100th birthday and the 75th anniversary of his ordination, he said: “I tried to do the best. I leave the rest to God.”
Father Treacy is survived by his grandniece Lorena, nephew John and numerous other relatives and friends.
Written by staff members of the Northwest Catholic the official magazine and news site for the Archdiocese of Seattle.