Members of the San Quentin community hope to get their dates to leave. Father George Williams received his unexpected release day in July of this year.
COVID’s quarantine dismantled spiritual practices for all denominations. The services, which define a large part of San Quentin’s legacy, were suspended on March 12, 2020. When church services return, the leadership of the Jesuit/Catholic faith will not be the same.
In a good-bye letter to his congregation, Father George announced his transfer to the Jesuit Parish in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco. The transfer took effect on July 31.
Father Williams, San Quentin’s Jesuit priest for the past 10 years, considered his tenure here “the best and happiest years of my life.” His all-inclusive services made him a leading supporter of the Death Row and LGBTQ communities.
“Without Father Williams, a transgender week would not have had the impact it did,” said Christopher “Max” Hickson. Hickson is the partner of Lisa Strawn, who choreographed the historic LGBTQ event in 2019.
“It’s ironic. No, it’s a sign from God that father George and I are leaving at the same time,” said Christian Dwight Krizman. Krizman spent the last 30 days of his sentence in SQ’s Badger, one of the prison’s four housing blocks.
“Restorative Justice, Bible Studies, Spirituality Group and Christian classes are just examples of how Father William impacted our lives,” added Jesuit Choir member John Krueger.
Jesuit services are tentatively set to be led by Pastor Manuel Chavira. Pastor Manny was a student of Father Williams and has filled in numerous times during recent absences of the departing Father.
The continued leadership of Father Manny illustrates the importance of San Quentin’s church in relation to the advocacy of San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who presides over the Archdiocese. He is currently advocating for the attendance rights of the general public, asking Gov. Newsom and S.F. Mayor London Breed to reinstate services that have been discontinued due to the pandemic.
Father Williams said the Archbishop approved his new position outside the walls. “Archbishop Cordileone made it perfectly clear that the community here at San Quentin will have a Catholic chaplain and that service will continue without interruption,” Father Williams wrote in his farewell.
“As our congregation welcomes Father Manny, we are blessed that we will not be losing Father Williams’ advice,” said choir leader Michael Adams.
Williams announced his plan to return to San Quentin around once a month. “I am also hoping to bring parishioners from Parish St. Agnes to the ministry here,” he said.
Father Williams, a Master’s graduate in Social Justice, added, “You will have a parish and priest who knows you, to welcome [you] to church if you get out and stay in the Bay Area. God helps us all, even in these difficult times.” Williams spoke to all Christians when he said that Jesus says we are here and he is with us.
His farewell letter closed with his promise to return to San Quentin as a volunteer, once they are allowed back in. The congregation rests in the comfort he will be back.