The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Sidney man finds his calling as Navy chaplain


In 1967, 17 year-old William Dorwart left all the familiarity of Sidney behind to join the Navy. The only boat Dorwart had ever been on before enlisting was one used for fishing.

“It was a culture shock. There was a whole different language. The expression ‘talks like a sailor’ was true, and still is. Although it was a very different lifestyle, a sense of community developed and you became tight because you were isolated together,” Dorwart said.

He served as an Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd class with “The Bats” of Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 13, stationed aboard USS Forrestal and USS America.

In the Navy, Dorwart chose friends that wanted to see the sights around the places they traveled instead of the party scene. He attended mass every Sunday, and everyone knew about it. Over the course of a few months, he received the nickname “Padre Bill,” though he was not preaching at the time.

The nickname inspired him. “I thought ‘maybe it should be true,’” Dorwart said.

After four years of serving in the Navy, Dorwart attended the University of Notre Dame and received Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees. He was ordained in 1980.

Father Dorwart returned to the Navy in 1985 as a chaplain. Navy chaplains serve the spiritual needs of military. Chaplains are part of a ministry that is truly 24/7 and cater to those of all faiths to guide them through life’s hardships.

Father Dorwart was inspired to become a chaplain by those he served with during his first four years in the Navy. They helped him sort things out and because faith was always such a big part of his life, he decided that he wanted to pursue this path in order to help others.

“The average age of those serving at the time was 19 and a half. It’s a harsh world everywhere, especially in the Navy, and young people don’t think that anyone cares about them. The need for chaplains was so great at the time. They help people discover their way,” Father Dorwart explained.

In 1991, Father Dorwart was recalled by his religious congregation to serve as director of education and training for those studying for the priesthood. He took a 17-year break from military service until there was a desperate need for Catholic chaplains in 2008.

When he returned, he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander for the second time.

“You never know the influence you have on people because there’s so much transition in the Navy,” Father Dorwart said.

Although there were a few stories that stuck out in his mind.

One of the ships Father Dorwart was on pulled into a pier in Japan, and one serviceman called home to let his family know he was safe. The county sheriff answered and instructed the man to go to someone of a higher rank and have him or her call back. Father Dorwart was in his office and the serviceman knocked and explained the situation. Father Dorwart called the sheriff and learned that the serviceman’s parents had been murdered and his younger brother was the main suspect. The sheriff did not want to deliver this news to the young man while he was standing on the pier. Father Dorwart had to inform the serviceman and help guide him through such a difficult time.

At times like these Father Dorwart explained that it was most important to listen. The sailors needed to let out what they were feeling, and there is not much that can be said to alleviate the harshness of death and sorrow.

“God gave us two ears and one tongue for a reason,” Father Dorwart stated.

But good things stand out, too. While on the USS Midway during Operation Desert Storm, Father Dorwart was helping with community service projects in the Philippines. He would have to go to the man in charge of paint quite often, and each time, the old, crusty sailor would say, “You chaplains are a waste of time.”

This sailor was discharged not long after, and before he left, he went to Father Dorwart’s office and told him, “You know how I feel about chaplains, but if I ever needed one, I’d come looking for you.”

“That’s when you know your presence has made a difference,” Father Dorwart said.

As a Catholic chaplain, Father Dorwart has never had a difficult time advising those of other faiths.

“The way the military says it, you provide for your own and facilitate the care of all. Everyone is a child of God,” Father Dorwart explained.

The Navy gave Father Dorwart the wonderful gift of getting to travel to see so much of the world while helping others.

While in the Philippines, a group of sisters were running a facility to care for those that were dying in the area. Mother Teresa visited the facility and took the time to go to the base and the chapel as well. The chapel was jam-packed and Mother Teresa told the servicemen/women that they were the most important people in the world because they helped her do her work.

“It was like meeting a living saint,” Father Dorwart said.

Father Dorwart has many memories of his time serving, but the most memorable were when his family got to visit. Family members were able to ride on a ship from Hawaii to San Diego with the military, so his two brothers, Jack and Clint, attended.

Down the road, his nephew, Matthew, was playing basketball at Creighton. Father Dorwart was on the USS Ronald Reagan and docked in San Diego at the time. He was able to arrange for the entire team to tour the ship. Dorwart laughed as he spoke about watching all the tall men squeeze through the ship.

“It was always nice having family touch base,” Father Dorwart explained.

Father Dorwart is currently able to serve due to a three-year age waiver. The cut off age is 62, but Father Dorwart wants to continue serving for as long as he can still do the work, which is partly physical. At 64 years old, Father Dorwart will have to renew his waiver this coming year.


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