Arizona Cardinals owner William V. Bidwell was remembered as a man of faith, family and football whose quiet generosity impacted Catholic education, during a funeral Mass at St. Francis Xavier Parish Oct. 8.
Bidwell, whose support bolstered St. Peter Indian Mission School in Bapchule, as well as Catholic University America and the University of Notre Dame — died Oct. 2. He was 88.
“Bill’s Catholic faith is not something he wore on his sleeve, but he didn’t intentionally hide it,” said Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. “Together with his wife, Nancy, Bill made a considerable impact on Catholic education. We ask, God — merciful Father, align with Jesus and all the saints and angels to welcome him into the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesuit Father Jim Van Dyke, president of Bidwill’s alma mater Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, comforted the mourners in his homily through Jesus’ words to His Apostles during the Last Supper recorded in John (14:1-6). In the passage, Jesus tells the Twelve His Father’s house has many rooms and that He is going there to prepare a place for them as well as all believers.
“It is comforting to know our God waits for us … that God has a place for us, each one of us in His Kingdom,” Fr. Van Dyke said.
He pointed to Bidwill’s Navy service, raising a family and supporting charities as well as Catholic education. Referencing the St. Ignatius Prayer for Generosity, which asks the Lord to teach the petitioner to be generous for no other reward than the knowledge of doing His will, Fr. Van Dyke pondered, “When I think of Bill Bidwill’s life and his work, I suspect this prayer was in the back of his mind.”
Nearly 1,000 mourners, many of whom wore bowties resembling the signature ones Bidwill often wore, attended the funeral. Among them was St. Peter principal Sr. Martha Mary Carpenter, FSCC, who led the Prayers of the Faithful.
Sr. Martha Mary told The Catholic Sun that Bidwill’s gifts transformed the Indian Mission school from a four-room adobe schoolhouse into a series of modular classrooms and saved the sisters from having to abandon their convent in Bapchule over a deteriorating roof. She recalled that in 1990, they needed funds for the improvements — money the Diocese of Phoenix was unable to provide at the time.
The morning after learning the nuns would have to come up with the funds, she decided to call the richest person she could think of: the Cardinals’ owner. Though she didn’t know Bidwill, Sr. Martha Mary phoned him anyway.
“I explained the problem. He said, ‘Sister, I’m coming down this afternoon,’” she recalled. “He took one look and said, ‘I will be back tomorrow with the money you need.’”
The job was finished $30,000 later with funds to spare. Bidwill told the sisters to keep the unused $2,000.
Bidwill would continue to support the school in a variety of ways, including arranging visits there with Cardinals players and providing game tickets to youngsters when the team played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
“They were good tickets, in an air-conditioned lodge area,” Sr. Martha Mary said. “He was very generous. He never said ‘no.’ There was always a twinkle in his eye.”
A number of years later, Bidwill would fund the electrical system and other infrastructure for four new modular classrooms that were supported by the Gila River Indian Tribe through casino revenues, allowing smaller class sizes and a more modern setting.
“He introduced us to a lot of people who helped us. The school is now pre-K through eighth grade,” she said. “We are blessed, but none of this would have been possible if Mr. B didn’t start the ball rolling.”
Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, 11-year Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delivered eulogies at the end of the liturgy.
“Being in this beautiful church filled with the people whose lives he touched in his 88 years says a lot about everything important to him,” said Goodell.
In his eulogy, Fitzgerald thanked the Bidwill family for sharing their father with the team. He noted that Bidwill’s priorities were “his family, which has carried on his work with the same grace Mr. B demonstrated throughout his life; his faith, which was part of everything he did; and, of course, football.”
Michael Bidwill said it seemed fitting his father died on the Feast of the Guardian Angels.
“His firm imprint on the culture of the Cardinals and our family will carry on. He was kind, generous and loyal — all qualities the world could use more of today. Rest in peace Dad. I will miss you,” he concluded, his voice breaking slightly at the final words.
William V. Bidwill was married for 56 years. His wife, Nancy, died in 2016. He leaves five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
At the end of his homily, Fr. Van Dyke recalled Bidwill returned to Georgetown Prep several years ago. He had an opportunity to see myriad new buildings and facilities — including an athletics complex — built since he left.
“After all those years away, he only asked to see two places; the room he lived in as a boarding student, and the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes,” where “he prayed and received the Sacraments as a young man,” said the Jesuit priest. These were “the home of his body and the home of his soul; the places where he met God and made many friends.”