Father William Gleeson

Father William Gleeson ["The Late Reverend Father William Gleeson," by Bryan J. Clinch, Dominicana, Dominican College, San Rafael, California, Volume 4 (1903), pages 110-112.] was a Roman Catholic priest, missionary, linguist, and historian.

He was born January 29, 1827, in County Tipperary, Ireland, and was privately educated before entering All Hallows College at Drumcondra north of Dublin to prepare for missionary service. He was ordained in 1853.

Soon after his ordination, Father Gleeson volunteered for service in India and was sent to Agra under the supervision of Ignatius Persico. He was placed in charge of a nearby congregation at Saldana, where he learned Hindustani and the Persian language from his parishioners.

Father Gleeson was at Agra when it was taken by Tantya Tope during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and subsequently served as a chaplain to Catholic soldiers in the British Army. It was in this capacity that he became acquainted with Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde and Sir James Outram, 1st Baronet.

Unfortunately, a few years after peace was restored, a serious illness nearly deprived Father Gleeson of his voice and convinced him to leave India to accept a teaching position at Vincentians' College at Izmir in Turkey. There he learned Arabic.

Father Gleeson was eventually invited to spend a year doing missionary work in the Diocese of Salford in England, and three years in Glasgow, Scotland. But, the climate in those two places disagreed with him, and he accepted a calling to teach ancient languages at St. Mary's College of California by 1870. [1870 Census, 11th Ward of San Francisco, California, page 592a.]

It was while teaching in San Francisco that Father Gleeson wrote his most famous work: History of the Catholic Church in California. It was published in 1872, a year after he had resumed parochial work in East Oakland, Fruitvale, and Alameda, California.

Father Gleeson continued to enjoy learning foreign languages as a pastor, including the Portuguese language of his parishioners and the Hebrew and Syro-Chaldaic writings he studied.

He died on his seventy-sixth birthday, January 29, 1903, having suffered a stroke four days earlier while preparing for late Sunday Mass at St. Anthony's Church. His funeral was held there on January 31, with burial following at nearby St. Mary's Cemetery.

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