Fr. Metzger reflects on ministry before retirement in Vienna

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Oblate Father William J. Metzger, or “Father Bill” as he is sometimes called, has never been one to let grass grow under his feet during his 47-year ministry.

 When he wasn’t counseling high school students in the principal’s office at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, he could be found helping serve food to students in the cafeteria.

“You can get more with a little bit of honey than a barrel of vinegar.” Father William J. Metzger

 “You see the kids differently than when they come into your office,” said Father Metzger. “I also made sure that I went to every single dance and home game. They did notice you were there.”

 Those who did make the walk to his office were greeted with a front row view of their principal’s Salesian spirituality.

 "We tried as best as we could to be gentle and not lose our temper,” said Father Metzger. “You can get more with a little bit of honey than a barrel of vinegar. I tried to reason with them.”

Father Metzger was born Oct. 27, 1942, in Baltimore, to William and Anne Metzger. He attended St. Agnes Elementary School and graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore.

He discerned a call to the priesthood in high school but also wanted to teach. A friend told him about the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and their teaching ministry. After graduating from high school, he entered the Oblates at Childs, Md., in 1960. He made his first profession Aug. 21, 1962, and his final vows Sept. 25, 1965.

He earned his bachelor’s in Latin at Niagara University in New York, a master’s degree in classical languages from Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., and a second master’s degree from the DeSales School of Theology.

The start of a 31-year teaching career began in Philadelphia at Northeast Catholic High (1963-65) and he taught at Father Judge High School (1967-68).

He was ordained to the priesthood by Philadelphia Cardinal John Krol June 5, 1971.

After ordination, he taught at Salesianum High School in Willmington, Del., (1972-84) before arriving at Ireton in 1984.

Even though he became principal five years later, he made sure that he always taught a class. He wanted to experience what his teachers were going through, while continuing to be present for the students as a teacher.

One of the highlights he remembers from his time as principal was overseeing the school’s transition to becoming co-ed. The school was cramped for space when the trailers they had ordered did not arrive on time.

“We jumped from 350 to 750 students,” said Father Metzger. “We had class anywhere with four walls, in the chapel, in the gym, in the cafeteria. We taught everywhere.”

With the boy-to-girl ratio being 2-to-1, he said one of the concerns people had was whether any girls would be elected to student government. They didn’t need to worry. The first student government after the transition ended up being all girls.

After 11 years as principal, Father Metzger left Ireton in 2000 and was assigned as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna.

At first, the transition took some getting used to.

“For a few days I was bored stiff, because I’m used to people being there and needing something all the time,” said Father Metzger. In the first weeks after the transfer, he remembers administering more sacraments in his new parish ministry than in the whole time since his ordination.

One of the gifts of working in the parish has been getting to know more families and guiding their children through the sacraments. Many of the children he baptized, he later gave their first Communion and first penance. Some even came back to him when they wanted to get married.

“You can have a good relationship with families if you just try to get one name down and show an interest,” he said. “It has been very rewarding.”

He served as pastor from 2004 to 2016 and during this time he oversaw the building of the new narthex, a project that started with his predecessor, Father John M. O’Neill. With fish fries and other fundraisers, the parish managed to pay off the building debt, and in recent years has started new ministries.  

In 2016, he stepped down as pastor and reassumed his old role as parochial vicar. He officially retired June 30, but plans to continue most of his current duties and will help out any way he can while residing at the rectory.

“To retire does not mean you don’t minister,” said Father Metzger. “You have to stay in the ministry to stay alive. There is still a part for you to do.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018