The Manila Archdiocese has officially opened the process for the beatification and canonization of a U.S. Jesuit priest credited with building up the presence of the Knights of Columbus
in the Philippines during the last century. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila accepted the nomination for the beatification of Jesuit Father George Willman during a Dec. 7 Mass marking the formal opening of the archdiocesan process. Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, one of the movers for Father Willman's beatification, described the late priest as "a friend of the poor" and a "missionary to the youth." Msgr. Quitorio, serves as vice chairman of the executive committee for the archdiocesan process. Father Willman was granted Philippine citizenship during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s. "He spent all 40 years of his priesthood here in the Philippines," said Msgr. Quitorio, adding that "it is only right Willman be recognized as a Filipino saint, if and when the time comes." Father Willman is now one of eight Filipinos currently undergoing the process for beatification and canonization. The Jesuit priest, born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 29, 1897, is considered the "Father of the Knights of Columbus" in the Philippines. Although the knights established their presence in the Philippines in 1905, Father Willman was credited with consolidating the organization's presence after he became their leader after World War II. Father Willmann arrived in the Philippines in 1922 as a seminarian. He taught at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University
before returning to the United States in 1925 to continue his theological studies. He returned to the Philippines in 1936 and helped establish various organizations, including the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, which was established as the Daughters of Isabella in 1951, the Columbian Squires, the Catholic Youth Organization, the Columbian Farmers Aid Organization, the Fund of the Poor Seminarians, and the Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal service organization in the Philippines. "The groups he set up have now grown and have hundreds of thousands of members, nationwide, proof of his influence in the Filipino church," Msgr. Quitorio added. Father Willman died of a heart attack in New York on Sept. 14, 1977. His remains were brought back to the Philippines and interred at the Jesuit cemetery in Quezon City.