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William A. Wendt; Episcopal Priest, Civil Rights Activist

July 14, 2001

The Rev. William A. Wendt, 81, an Episcopal priest and longtime civil rights activist, died July 1 in Washington, D.C., after a long battle with cancer.

Born in Mitchell, S.D., Wendt was a fighter pilot during World War II, flying 80 missions against Germany. After the war, Wendt became a priest, he said, "so I would never be involved in anything like that again." He graduated from General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1951.

Wendt worked in central-city parishes in New York and New Jersey. In 1960, he became pastor of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church in Washington. Under his leadership, the church became a beacon of social activism. Wendt participated in civil rights protests in the South during the 1960s, and was arrested for sitting in the "colored" section of a bus terminal in Jackson, Miss.

In 1975, Wendt was formally reprimanded by the church for allowing the Rev. Allison Cheek to celebrate Mass at St. Stephen. Two years later, the Episcopal Church decided to allow women into the priesthood.

In 1978, convinced that "the church didn't know too much about death and dying," he founded the St. Francis Center, an innovative ministry to the terminally ill, in Washington. He was its director until retiring in 1991.

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