By Tim OSHEI
The time was November, 1990. The battle was Operation Desert Storm.
Reverend Monsignor William James Gallagher - a.k.a. Colonel Gallagher - was going to
For this former South Buffalo boy, life had come full circle.
His experiences of conflict and its profound effect on the citizenry - elements that
helped shape him into a man of God from his early days as a student, police officer and
army trooper - were now bound together eternally.
Bill Gallagher was taking war and making peace. And things were moving quickly.
Just a year after being named Reverend Monsignor by the Catholic Diocese,
Fr. Gallagher was to begin a new assignment as rector of St. Josephs Cathedral in
Buffalo. He had just ended a rewarding tenure as pastor of St. Mary of the Angels in Olean
where he faced many challenges.
While in Olean, the time-worn roof of the church collapsed. Fr. Gallagher spent the
remaining three years of his pastorship raising much of the $2 million needed to fix the
church, leading his temporarily displaced congregation in various churches in the Southern
Tier and in St. Bonaventure University.
It was a time of flux; one that called for patience and creative problem-solving skills
that would be invaluable in the Gulf.
A New Beginning ... Fr. Gallagher (right)
proudly presides over the
Upon returning to Buffalo, Fr. Gallaghers U.S. Army Reserve Unit - Niagara
Falls 365th Evacuation Hospital Unit - was activated to go overseas. He never had
time to unpack.
Three months of training led to another three in the Gulf of Oman. As the units
chaplain, Fr. Gallagher was on the front line of the emo- tional battlefront.
These were 400 people whose lives and families were just destroyed, he
said. My own feelings were put on hold. I spent all of my time dealing with broken
families. Peoples mortgages werent getting paid. Troops werent getting
mail and we didnt get adequate food.
He helped maintain the hearts and souls of his fellow reservists. But there were deeper
cultural issues to deal with.
Part of an Army chaplains duties is to recognize the religious beliefs of the
residents where the unit is stationed. In Oman, that meant understanding the Muslim faith.
A Toast To Peace ... Col. Gallagher (left) and friends share coffee in Muscat, Oman at the end of the Gulf War.
One day, the Omani government sent a gasoline truck to the base - a normal procedure.
U.S. troops rotated inspection duties, and on this day, two women were on the post.
They explained to the driver that they had to inspect the vehicle and accompany him to the
Upon seeing the women, the driver and his partner scooted out of the truck, implanted
themselves on the ground 100 feet away and refused to move. A ruckus soon followed.
Our commanders got very annoyed, Fr. Gallagher recalled. In their
real world, those truck drivers had never seen this before - two white women
wearing Army T-shirts, carrying rifles and telling them what to do.
Fr. Gallagher quickly understood what was happening and explained to the commander that
Muslims do not believe in the public mingling of men and women. Arrangements were quickly
made to rectify the situation.
At a time of war, he was doing his part to maintain whatever peace was left. This
illustrated the difficulty faced by people trying to maintain their culture and faith in a
time of war.
A Revitalization of Spirit
As disruptive as Desert Storm was, it revitalized Fr. Gallaghers spirit. Only
months before going overseas, he turned 50 and wasnt feeling particularly good about
Suddenly, he found himself not only performing his priestly duties to their purest -
helping people - but doing it in the middle of the desert.
He was running, showering, eating cold military rations, erecting tents and cleaning
toilets alongside teen-age troops - things a ranking officer would not normally do - and
he was keeping up!
It was definitely a turning point for me, he said. Not only is there
an assault on your age, but you end up doing stuff that you havent done in years.
Youre asked to do whatever has to be done in wartime.
My life has never been the same. My priorities have changed. It energized me. I
was beginning to think I was getting old, but now I can handle anything. If they send me
to Bosnia tomorrow ... fine. I can do it. It gave me a perspective of whats really
And for Fr. Gallagher, whats really important is family - personal family
members, parishioners, clergy workers and fellow military personnel.
A Strong Family
At 55, Fr. Gallagher has come a long way since his childhood days in South Buffalo. One
of 10 children, he enjoyed a close bond with his six brothers and three sisters, mother
Elizabeth and dad William, Sr.
Happy Times ... Billy Gallagher (forefront)
at age 3 with brother Joseph and
It was a different era. Families pulled together to support the brave men and women
serving our country during World War II. Parents and children alike sacrificed personal
pleasures for the greater good.
Little Billy Gallagher learned that life was often a struggle - financially,
spiritually, culturally. This had a profound impact on his life later. Now, family and
education took center stage.
Even then, he toyed with the notion of becoming a priest. As the nuns unhesitatingly
told the children, the priesthood was an honorable profession - one where you could work
So, for that matter, was law enforcement. He decided to join Uncle Sam as an
infantryman and a military policeman.
His great uncle was the first commissioner of the Buffalo Police Department, and the
interest had trickled down the family tree.
A young and idealistic Bill Gallagher continued the family tradition, but soon the
profession lost its luster.
It was particularly frustrating that he could not help the troubled people with whom he
came in contact. Hed simply arrest them and move on.
At age 21, the 122-pound officer gained a clear perspective when he was accosted by an
enraged prostitute whom he had arrested.
Up, Up, And Away ... U.S. Army paratrooper 2nd Lt. Bill Gallagher, in full gear, readies for a mission.
She had hold of my uniform and was throwing me all over, he said. I
thought to myself, I dont think this is what I want to spend my life
doing. That really helped me focus. I had to make a decision.
From War To Peace
Most of Gallaghers service years were spent policing in and around posts in Fort
Lewis, Washington and Germany.
Part of his position included training as an infantryman, encompassing everything from
weaponry to leaping out of planes.
The year 1964 was a pivotal moment in his life. Now 24, he watched as many of his
comrades boarded planes bound for Vietnam.
With his three-year commitment to the Army coming to a close, Bill Gallagher dreamed of
entering the seminary.
Honors And Family ... Fr. Gallagher beams
with pride as his sisters (from left)
However, the Pentagon had virtually frozen its discharge procedures ... no one
was getting out.
He expected to be sent to Viet- nam. Instead, following a quick conference with his
general, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
If they were going to send me to Vietnam or anywhere, he recalled, I
figured that was some kind of sign, an indicator of what I ought to do. But when the
general said to me I think wed rather have you as a clergyman than a military
policeman, I felt that was a pretty good sign, too.
It was a great sign, but the Army and Bill Gallagher were still involved with each
other. After all, the general said, wed rather have you... meaning it
was just time to take a break and pursue a lifelong dream.
On The High Road
His love for people is essentially why Fr. Gallagher entered the seminary in 1965.
He couldnt afford to forget that once inside St. John Vianney Seminary where most
of his worldly values - but not the sense of humor people find in him today - were
For a while there, they werent too happy with me, Fr. Gallagher said.
I came to the seminary after three years of real hard running around, being out with
the guys and being kind of rough and tumble. The seminary was a sheltered atmosphere, and
I didnt fit in for a while.
That time called for concessions on both sides. As the years progressed, Bill Gallagher
proved his dedication to the church.
He was ordained on May 24, 1969 in St. Josephs Cathedral - the same church where
he now practices.
Of course he made a few stops along the way - Blessed Trinity Church in Buffalo, St.
John the Baptist in Lockport and St. Paul the Apostle in Kenmore, before moving to Olean
and later returning to Buffalo.
A Family Man ... For the patriarch of the
Gallagher clan, William, Sr.,
Meet Fr. Gallagher today, and youll see the man next door who enjoys cutting the
grass ... the sweating guy who likes to jog every other day and can be found running next
to you at a race ... or the chummy buddy whos quick with a friendly wisecrack.
He just happens to be a priest who presides over Sunday Mass.
Hes still on duty, serving six weeks annually as an Army reservist and Chaplain
at Arlington National Cemetery. One of these times, hed like to jog a half-mile with
Is he down to earth?
Fr. Gallagher has his feet firmly planted on the same ground the rest of us walk upon.
Hed have it no other way.
Tim OShei is a free-lance writer from Hamburg, NY.
Photos courtesy of Fr. William J. Gallagher.
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