Deacon Bill Steltemeier, 83, who was known to millions of television viewers around the world as the longtime associate of EWTN Foundress Mother Angelica, died peacefully early this morning, Feb. 15, at his home in Hanceville, Alabama following a lengthy illness.
“Other than Mother Angelica herself, there is no one who has been more closely associated with the mission of EWTN throughout its history than Deacon Bill Steltemeier,” said EWTN President & Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw. “In all respects, he was a man of incredible faithfulness. As a husband, a father, an attorney and in his vocation as a permanent deacon, Bill always remained focused on serving God and serving others. He devoted himself totally to Mother Angelica’s mission and sacrificed all he had to help her build EWTN into the tremendous vehicle for evangelization that it has become.”I was privileged to know and work alongside Bill for twenty-five years and to succeed him aspresident and chief executive of the Network he loved so much. While we mourn his passing, we take comfort from his own example of faith and are confident he has heard those words from the Gospel of Matthew, ‘Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.’”
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., the longest-serving member of EWTN’s Board of Governors, knew Deacon Bill well. “Mother Angelica’s vision and dedication inspired the founding of Eternal Word Television Network, but the man who more than anyone turned her vision into practical reality was Deacon Bill Steltemeier. As Mother’s coworker, right hand and friend for many years, Bill lived out a tremendous commitment to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world through the modern media. He was an extraordinary man, and millions of EWTN viewers will remember him with gratitude and respect. May God console his family and grant him eternal light and joy.”
Born in 1929 in Nashville, Tenn., to the late Rudolph William Steltemeier, Sr., and Mary Ione (Phippen) Steltemeier, R. William Steltemeier, Jr., attended Chaminade College Preparatory School in St. Louis, Mo., and Vanderbilt University. He married Ramona Schnupp on Aug. 22, 1953. A year later, after graduating from Vanderbilt Law School, Bill entered the United States Army and served for two years in France. In 1960, he co-founded the Nashville law firm of Steltemeier & Westbrook specializing in bankruptcy and commercial law. After fifty years, the firm is still serving clients in middle-Tennessee with expanded areas of practice.
Both as a lawyer and as a committed Catholic, Bill served his community in many ways. For more than three decades, he was engaged in assisting prisoners in both their civil and spiritual rehabilitation. He co-founded a prison Junior Chamber of Commerce program, and served on the boards of the 7-Step Foundation, Operation Comeback, and the Dismas House, organizations dedicated to helping former prisoners transform their lives. In 1975, he was appointed by the Governor of Tennessee to the state’s review board for prison reform.
Of greatest significance, however, was his ordination on April 26, 1975, as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Nashville by Bishop Joseph A. Durick. Deacon Bill was among the first men in the United States to be ordained to the permanent diaconate. Following his ordination, he was appointed Catholic Chaplain to the Tennessee State Prison for Men.
On March 9, 1978, while attending a legal convention in Chicago, Deacon Bill first encountered Mother Mary Angelica. While Mother Angelica was speaking, Deacon Bill heard an interior voice say to him, “Until the day you die.” He knew from that moment that his life would be devoted to serving Mother Angelica.
When EWTN was formed in 1980, Deacon Bill became the Network’s first President and a founding board member. In 1985, he resigned from his law firm to dedicate himself full-time to Mother Angelica and EWTN. For 22 years, Bill would commute each week from his home in Nashville to the Network’s headquarters in Irondale.
Upon Mother Angelica’s retirement from active leadership of EWTN in March of 2000, Deacon Bill took over the offices of Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. Though he retired from the role of chief executive in 2009, he continued to serve as Chairman of the Network’s Board of Governors until his death.
In May 2008, the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, was conferred upon Deacon Bill by Ave Maria University in recognition of his accomplishments and service to the Catholic Church.
In October 2009, Deacon Bill was awarded the Pontifical Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of his lifetime of extraordinary service to the Church.
Deacon Bill Steltemeier is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ramona, who lives in Hanceville, Alabama, where they moved in 2002, and his brother Fred Steltemeier of Nashville, several nieces and their families. He was preceded in death by his son, Rudy Steltemeier, III and daughter-in-law, Debra Steltemeier.
Vespers and the Divine Mercy Chaplet will be prayed on Monday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m. CT at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala. followed by public visitation. A Prayer Vigil and Rosary will be prayed at 7:00 p.m. CT. The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. CT Tuesday, Feb. 19 at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala. Burial will take place at 2:30 p.m. CT Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Calvary Cemetery in Nashville.
Please see EWTN’s website (www.ewtn.com) for information about Masses and programs celebrating Deacon Bill’s life.