William C. “Bill” Peffley Jr., 87, the owner along with his wife, Mary, of the Catholic Shop in Norristown and a major force in the Legion of Mary, died Jan. 31.
At his funeral Mass at Holy Saviour Church in Norristown, Father Francis Peffley, his son and a priest of the Arlington Diocese, shared his father’s life story.
He was born April 30, 1929 in Reading, the son of William C. Peffley and Anna M. (Borr) Peffley. Because his father was strongly anti-Catholic his mother had him baptized secretly. After his father died when he was 5, his mother raised him in the faith and he graduated from Reading Central Catholic High School.
He did have a health set back, tuberculosis, which in those days meant confinement in a sanatorium. He stayed there two years as he recovered, and during this period he was especially influenced by the priests and nuns who would visit the patients.
Back in his home parish Peffley took spiritual direction from Father Ignatius Szal, who was promoting the Legion of Mary. For two years Father Szal coaxed him to join, and finally in 1955, in confession, the priest said, “Bill, for your penance join the Legion of Mary.”
Peffley did so and remained an active Legionnaire for the rest of his life. It was through the Legion of Mary that he met Mary Phelps and when they married in 1958, they honeymooned in Ireland where they met Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary.
They had breakfast with him daily and remained friends until Duff’s death in 1990. From Ireland they proceeded to Lourdes where they dedicated their marriage to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
What was most unusual about their honeymoon trip, according to their son, is that they took Father Szal along with them.
Actually Mary was a member of the Legion long before Bill. She joined in South Bend, Indiana, and came to Philadelphia after Archbishop John O’Hara introduced the devotional society to this city.
Mary had prior experience in a Catholic book store and it was shortly after their marriage that they opened the Catholic Shop, which still exists and in past years had several branch stores elsewhere.
“Their desire was to spread the faith, to share the faith, to live for others. It was a way of saving souls,” Father Peffley said.
Bill Peffley’s prayer routine for many years included daily Mass, rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours. His Legion of Mary activities including recording four albums of Marian music, authoring a Legion songbook, and a book of poetry on the rosary. He also edited the local Legion magazine, Maria Legionis.
Peffley served several terms as president of the Legion’s Philadelphia Senatus.
“I joined the Legion in 1962 and he was my mentor,” said Christine Coakley, the immediate past president of the Philadelphia Senatus. “He was like a big brother, a tremendous influence on me and he encouraged me.”
“He will be missed, he is one of the grand Legionnaires,” said Don Taggert, the current president of the Philadelphia Senatus, who counts Bill Peffley and the late Msgr. Al Norrell as the greatest leaders of the Legion in the Philadelphia area.
In addition to his wife and son, Bill Peffley is survived by his daughters, Edel Lukens (Steve) and Natia Meehan (Greg), also his grandchildren, Clare, Christopher, Johnny, Sarah, Megan, Erin and Grace.
Interment was at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Norristown.