William F. Bolan, Jr.
William F. Bolan, Jr.

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

William F. Bolan Jr., who spent more than two decades advancing key initiatives on behalf of New Jersey’s Catholic Bishops, died Oct. 25 in his Hopewell Township home following an illness. He was 75.

Bolan served as executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, from 1984 until his retirement in 2006.  During his tenure, Bolan worked to advocate for the Catholic position on such issues as partial birth abortion, embryonic stem cell research, affordable housing, immigration rights and tax credits for the parents of religious school students.

Funeral services were to take place Nov. 3 with a Mass of Christian Burial celebrated in St. James Church, Pennington, by Msgr. Michael J. Walsh, pastor. A private interment was planned.

Bolan was born in Providence, R.I. , to William F. and Helen Bolan, and grew up in Madison and Short Hills. He graduated from Millburn High School in 1960; he earned a bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall University, South Orange, in 1964, and a juris doctorate degree from Seton Hall University’s School of Law, Newark, in 1968.

Prior to joining the New Jersey Catholic Conference, he served as judicial clerk for the Essex County Court (1968-1969); assistant county prosecutor for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office (1969-1972), and as an associate and then partner with Herrigel, Bolan and Manahan, Millburn, (1972-1975). From 1975 to 1984, he was deputy attorney general for the N.J. State Attorney General’s Office, Division of Criminal Justice in Trenton, where he held numerous positions including attorney, Appellate Section; deputy chief, Special Projects, Appellate Section; chief, Legislative Services Section, and chief, Program Integrity Section.

Bolan was also a member of the board of trustees for Morris Hall/St. Lawrence, Inc., Lawrenceville, from 2006 to 2012 and then was board chair from 2008 to 2010. He was an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion for Stonebridge at Montgomery and was a member of St. James Parish.

Bolan was predeceased by his stepmother, Dorothy F. Bolan; his sister, Helen Warley, and sister-in-law, Jane Bolan. In addition to Sue (Archie), his wife of 46 years, he is survived by his brothers, John and Michael; sisters-in-law Terry Bolan and Concetta Farugia; brother-in-law, Dr. Julian T. Archie, and several nieces and nephews.

With Praise and Gratitude

Upon learning of Bolan’s death, the Diocese of Trenton posted an online message that said, “We learned today of the passing of Bill Bolan, who championed Catholic causes on behalf of New Jersey’s Bishops, serving at the helm of the New Jersey Catholic Conference for 22 years. It is with the deepest of gratitude and respect that the Diocese of Trenton remembers Bill’s long-standing efforts for the Church. Our prayers go out to Bill’s widow, Sue, and all of his loved ones.” 

Patrick Brannigan, who succeeded Bolan as NJCC executive director,  pointed to his “many important contributions to the Church.”

Brannigan stated, “Perhaps most significantly, Bill was the principal author of the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding between the New Jersey dioceses and the 21 county prosecutors.” According to Brannigan, that memorandum was the result of negotiations between the Division  of Criminal Justice and the NJCC, and stood as “the most comprehensive and precise agreement of its kind in the nation for reporting sexual offenses to county prosecutors and local police agencies.”

“We still benefit from Bill’s wise advice and legal acuity,” Brannigan said.

After working side by side with Bolan for nearly 20 years, Dr. George Corwell, director of the NJCC’s Office of Education, holds him in the highest regard.  He shared, “Bill will be remembered as a consummate gentleman who understood the great burdens placed upon our bishops in the public arena. He attempted to alleviate those burdens in his role as conference director but was always faithful to the wishes of the bishops. His own prayer life reflected his humility.”

Dr. Corwell recalled the support that Bolan gave him when he first joined the NJCC.  After having worked for 20 years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as a teacher, department chairman and principal, Dr. Corwell admitted that he “knew a great deal about education but little about the nuances of education lobbying and the limits imposed upon 501(c) 3 organizations.

“Bill was highly patient with me as we navigated the turbulent waters of trying to get more benefits for parents who sent their children to a Catholic school,” Dr. Corwell said. He added how appreciative he was to Bolan, who supported the idea of forming a Parent Network of Catholic School Families – “a group that continues to this day.”

“He was a model of the Catholic faith, and his experience in the legal profession made him all the more sensitive to those less fortunate,” Dr. Corwell said.

Mentor and Friend

Prior to assuming her current role as executive director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, Marlene Laó-Collins worked with Bolan as the NJCC’s director for social concerns.

Lao-Collins remembered Bolan’s effectiveness in legislative matters, having had the ability to talk to individuals on both sides of a subject of great importance to the bishops and drawing from a substantial bank of knowledge about the most sensitive and complex issues.

“He was a true mentor,” Laó-Collins said of Bolan, acknowledging that she was able to approach her work differently as a result of his coaching when she first started at the NJCC.

“Sometimes as advocates we can formulate our views without careful consideration of the other perspective.  This was not acceptable to Bill. He taught me to look at both sides of the issues in order to present a comprehensive position to the bishops,” Lao-Collins said.

“It was an interesting challenge to me. It helped me grow and learn to agree to disagree in a respectful way. As a result, there are people today I respect and work with even though our views are different in some subjects,” she continued. “I am afraid we’ve lost some of this civility in today’s political discourse. We are too quick to demonize the different. That was definitely not Bill’s way.”

Brannigan echoed praise of his predecessor, recalling their longtime friendship which dates back to when the two met as freshmen in Seton Hall University.

“We remained dear friends over the last 59 years,” Brannigan said, “We would get together with other classmates for lunch periodically and we would talk over the phone. We also lived close by in the Hopewell Valley.”

Brannigan noted that the two men’s career paths had crossed from time to time especially during the interim when Bolan worked in the Attorney General’s Office and Brannigan worked for the state as acting director of the NJ Division of Motor Vehicles.

Similar to Dr. Corwell, Brannigan also commended Bolan’s work with the NJCC saying, “For over 20 years, Bill Bolan was the public policy face of the Catholic Church in the State House and beyond.  There could have been no better representative. Bill was a person of deep faith whose professionalism was respected by legislators and leaders in the executive branch of state government.”

Brannigan recalled that when Bolan retired from the NJCC, one of the bishops had observed that “Bill had been one of the most important people in the history of the Catholic Church in the State of New Jersey for a score of years.”

Brannigan added, “I agree with that assessment.”

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, 383 W. State Street, Trenton, N.J. 08607-1423 or the Alzheimer’s New Jersey at alznj.org.