By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Bill Lincoln can walk into St. Boniface Church and know in an instant if something is amiss.
He’s spent years and years giving meticulous attention to every inch of the historic parish on East Liberty Street.
Lincoln has served at St. Boniface, technically as the director of music, for 50 years. But his role there extends to all sorts of duties — he acts as the plant manager when needed and coordinates weddings.
Now he’s ready to retire.
Hired the same month that Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, Lincoln has seen the parish and surrounding neighborhood through countless changes and transformations.
“Nearly two-thirds of my life has been spent here. It’s the longest place, I guess, I’ve ever been. It really is like a second home to me. I know every creak and crack,” he said in an interview in the sacristy last week.
Lincoln, 68, began playing the organ at St. Boniface while he was still a student at Trinity High School. He was hired full-time at the parish the summer after he graduated.
He developed his deep love of music from his mother, Margaret Lincoln, whom he described as a “brilliant pianist.”
“After she got supper on the stove, she would play Mozart or Beethoven,” he said.
Lincoln, one of seven children, attended St. Barnabas Church and its parish school. One of his brothers is Father Dan Lincoln, pastor of St. Brigid Church in Vine Grove, Ky., and St. John the Baptist Church in Rineyville, Ky. His father, Deacon Bruce Lincoln, was a member of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s first permanent diaconate class in 1976. And, an aunt, Sister Angelice Seibert, was an Ursuline Sister of Louisville.
To Lincoln, serving at St. Boniface has been both a profession and a passion.
“The enthusiasm for the place is still here, but it’s time to turn it over to someone else,” he said.
Excitement and sorrow blend together when Lincoln reflects on his life after his tenure at St. Boniface is complete.
“Other than the people, obviously — because I could not do my job without the support of the people — I’ll miss the permanency, the solidity of the building. I’ll miss the history of the place,” he said.
“Of its 183 years, 50 of them have been entrusted to me,” he said.
He’ll especially miss the members of the choir, the parish’s historic organ and the routine of coming to the same place day after day, he said.
Last Sunday, Dec. 16, prior to the 11 a.m. Mass, Father Jeffrey Shooner, pastor of St. Boniface, addressed members of the choir and thanked Lincoln for his decades of services.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone more consistent and anyone with more passion about St. Boniface and about our worship here,” he said.
Father Shooner said Lincoln brings out the best in others and has been “a real gift of God to our community.”
St. Boniface choir members describe Lincoln as humble, gracious and incredibly talented.
Chris Poynter, a choir member since 2004, said Lincoln is the glue that bonds the parish.
“He holds the whole parish together. He’s not just the music director; he does everything here. It seems dramatic to say, but he is St. Boniface,” Poynter said.
James Wuest, a choir member since 2007, agreed and said Lincoln’s skill as an organist is second to none.
“Bill is probably one of the finest improvisational organists in the city,” Wuest said.
Father Adam Carrico, associate pastor of St. Boniface, said Lincoln has brought stability to the parish through times of trials and uncertainty.
“Bill is very dedicated to St. Boniface. The fact that he has been there for this long is a reassurance to many. He knows the history and what’s special about St. Boniface,” Father Carrico said in an interview last week.
Father Carrico also noted that Lincoln’s willingness to go the extra mile and sacrifice has not gone without notice.
“Through the years, I don’t think St. Boniface has found itself at the top of many people’s list of importance. Because of that, Bill has had to shoulder much more responsibility,” he said. “Anytime I refer to him as choir director, or organist or director of music, it doesn’t even begin to describe him.”
St. Boniface was established in 1836 and served the large German immigrant population in Louisville.
The present church was built in 1900 when the burgeoning parish required more space. Franciscan priests of Cincinnati staffed the parish from 1849 to 1998.
Through the years as the neighborhood has changed so too has the outreach focus of the parish, Lincoln said. The Franciscans served the area homeless and hungry in a variety of ways, including a soup kitchen and shelter.
When the Archdiocese of Louisville resumed responsibility of the parish in the late 1990s, the late Father Timothy Hogan became pastor and led efforts to serve the area by inviting parishioners to staff Meals on Wheels and Dare to Care. When the nearby public housing complex was demolished in the early 2000s those programs went away.
Today the parish supports St. John Center for Homeless Men and Central Louisville Community Ministries. The parish also supports Nativity Academy, which is housed in the former parish school. The school serves urban youth from low-income families in grades five to eight. The parish has about 250 parishioners.