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Remains of Delaware County priest considered for sainthood reinterred at Villanova University chapel

Remains of Pennsylvania priest considered for sainthood reinterred at Villanova
Remains of Pennsylvania priest considered for sainthood reinterred at Villanova 03:29

VILLANOVA, Pa. (CBS) -- The remains of a late Augustinian priest named Father Bill Atkinson were transferred to the chapel at Villanova University last Friday, and he's on the path to sainthood.

CBS News Philadelphia has followed the story for several years and we were the only news outlet given access when his remains were transferred. 

There are a handful of possible miracles being investigated for a possible connection to Atkinson.

Anne Marie Dolceamore, in the fight of her life, remembers the moment she turned to pray to Atkinson.

"If you intercede for me and I am healed and I can stay on this Earth with my two little girls, I will continue your story," she said in an interview.

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Anne Marie Dolceamore said the entire Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast community prayed to Father Bill Atkinson during her fight against cancer. 

In 2020, the Havertown mother of two and an assistant principal at Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High School in Drexel Hill had just received bad news. Her cancer was spreading and doctors said it was stage four.

"So I broke down in tears because I thought it was a hopeless diagnosis," she said.

For several weeks in September 2020, the entire Bonner and Prendie school community prayed to Atkinson for Dolceamore. 

By November, there was another phone call -- it was her oncologist.

"She said, 'I have news for you,'" Dolceamore said. "She said, 'I was in tears when I saw the results of your scan.' She said, 'The cancer is almost gone.' I was in shock."

On Friday, Atkinson's family, fellow Augustinians and Archbishop Nelson Perez gathered as the Upper Darby native's remains were moved from a West Conshohocken cemetery to the chapel at Villanova.

It was a dramatic and emotional step in what church leaders said raised Atkinson's visibility: on his path to canonization and sainthood.

"If you want to get to know God, get to know God's friends," Father Rob Hagan said. "So Father Bill was a great friend of the Lord."

Hagan has been instrumental in raising awareness about the cause for sainthood. 

Atkinson was left a quadriplegic after a toboggan crash. He was studying to be a priest when it happened in 1965.

Atkinson would go on to teach thousands of students at Monsignor Bonner before his death in 2006.

"He never gave up. He never stopped moving forward. He continued to teach and preach and remind others that they're not alone," Hagan said. "We're very proud of our brother Bill Atkinson. His faith and perseverance have really culminated in this cause of canonization."

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Father Bill Atkinson, an Upper Darby, Pennsylvania native, taught thousands of students at Monsignor Bonner before his death in 2006.

Church officials said the entire process of exhumation and reinterment called for a level of discretion.

As word spreads, the Augustinians expect an increase in foot traffic to the chapel, for those who want to pray to Atkinson.

"This is more than just a story about a person from Upper Darby or Philadelphia or Villanova," Hagan said. "The impacts of this life is having a ripple effect around the world."

Dolceamore is now cancer-free going on three years. 

"I pray to Father Bill every night. I talk to him. He's one of my best friends," she said. "I owe so much to Father Bill Atkinson. He's the reason I'm here — he's the reason I can continue being a mommy to my two little girls. He was a saint on Earth."

Hagan's healing is under investigation by the church as a possible miracle. There are at least two other known cases attributed to Atkinson. 

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