Father Treacy at Ninety-Nine

Father Treacy at Ninety-Nine


At 99, the Rev. William Treacy continues legacy of compassion


MOUNT VERNON — Listening to the Rev. William Treacy speak is like taking a step back in history.

“So, what would you like to know?” the Catholic priest asks, a soft smile spreading across his face.

Everything. But with a memory like Treacy’s, hearing everything would take years.

Stories, with their details sharp as ever, flow from the newly turned 99-year-old. He speaks of being a panelist on a Seattle television show for 14 years, working with Dick Van Dyke on a movie and helping create a Mount Vernon camp dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue.

Today, Treacy resides at Lake McMurray and is among the country’s oldest serving priests, still filling in at local parishes when needed. Last month, he spoke at a church in Stanwood and this month, he led a service at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Mount Vernon.

“For me, he’s like the grandfather I never had,” longtime friend the Rev. Jim Dalton said.

Dalton was about 10 and serving as an altar boy in Seattle when he met Treacy around 1952. By that time, Treacy had lived in the city for about seven years, having answered the city’s Archdiocese request for priests to temporarily fill openings left by World War II.

Treacy came to reside in the city one year after being ordained in his homeland in Ireland in 1944. He served in various parishes, became the chaplain of a Seattle high school and was appointed to the Chancery staff for the Archdiocese. Though his state-side ministry was meant to last five years, he ended up staying in the Pacific Northwest forever.

He described his life as routine until 1960 when he was introduced to the late rabbi Raphael Levine, a leader of a Seattle temple, and the first Jewish person he’d ever met.

Their unlikely friendship spanned more than two decades, during which Levine — 20 years Treacy’s senior — acted as a mentor to the young priest, guiding and encouraging him to expand his interfaith relations.

The same year the religious leaders met, John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was running for president during a time of anti-Catholic sentiment.

Levine and the manager of KOMO-TV sought to create a television show to provide the public with a better understanding of religion and how those of different faiths could work together.

For Treacy, joining the show was just the beginning of the ecumenical outreach that would exemplify his life’s work.

“Before religion, we are human beings,” he said.

Greg Magnoni, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Seattle, said Treacy’s relationship with Levine was a key part of his ministry with the diocese.

“The important thing is the depth of their affection and what that says about religion not only co-existing, but thriving together,” he said. “It’s a real testament to Father Treacy’s loving outreach to all those outside the Catholic faith.”

Treacy and Levine were the mainstay panelists on the talk-show-style program “Challenge” for 14 years, garnering a weekly viewership of 300,000, according to the History of the Archdiocese.

The two, along with rotating Protestant ministers, tackled issues such as how to talk about Christmas in public schools, the relationship between church and state and who crucified Jesus.

In 1966, Levine asked Treacy a question that would change their lives and the lives of countless others.

“Will you drive to Mount Vernon with me?” he asked.

That drive to what was then a 300-acre dairy farm at Lake McMurray was the start of Camp Brotherhood.

For the next 50 years, people of all religions and backgrounds would gather at the camp, sharing their faith with one another, and in turn, forging lifelong friendships.

Treacy recalled the story of a Muslim group from Afghanistan that spent a weekend at the camp. He said he and the leader of the group were open, neither one pushing their faith on the other.

Before leaving, Treacy said the leader told him, “You and I are going to be friends.”

“That’s the sort of thing that just happens with him,” said the Rev. Terry Kyllo, executive director of the Treacy Levine Center, an organization that upholds the teachings of Treacy and Levine. “Father Treacy doesn’t define people by their religions.”

Camp Brotherhood was renamed the Treacy Levine Center (TLC) in 2014 to commemorate Levine, who died in a car crash in 1985.

“Everybody needs a little TLC,” Treacy chuckled.

Today, the former religious sanctuary is still a camp, but one that provides free camp experiences to children and families living with serious medical conditions.

The center’s board sold the property to Camp Korey in 2016 after maintenance and operating costs grew too high.

Though its physical location is no more, the center remains active, with major projects in the works to preserve Treacy and Levine’s legacies.

Jeff Renner, a retired KING 5 meteorologist and Treacy Levine Center board member, is working with the board to bring back the “Challenge” show and produce a feature-length documentary on Treacy.

Three episodes of the re-imaged show, “Challenge 2.0,” have been filmed, Renner said, and have a target release date for mid-June. The episodes are scheduled to air on Sunday mornings on KFFV.

The program is modeled after the original, with Renner serving as moderator for panelists from diverse backgrounds.

So far, the panelists have discussed topics such as white supremacy and the #MeToo movement.

An episode with Treacy is scheduled to film in the coming weeks.

“Hopefully, this inspires other communities to do similar things,” Renner said. “We don’t want to keep (Treacy) to ourselves. We want him to serve as an inspiration.”

Oscar-nominated director and producer Mel Damski echoed Renner’s hope of introducing Treacy to a broader audience.

Damski, who met Treacy at Camp Brotherhood, said he was taken with the camp and its co-founder. He joined the center’s board three years ago as the only Jewish member.

“(Treacy) doesn’t have the biases that many people in religious orders have,” Damski said. “He’s just so open minded. He would have made a wonderful Pope.”