Father William Kruegler, a native of Troy who went to Catholic Central High School, was killed on a mission in Bolivia as a Maryknoll Father in 1962. (Photos provided)
Father William Kruegler, a native of Troy who went to Catholic Central High School, was killed on a mission in Bolivia as a Maryknoll Father in 1962. (Photos provided)
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Father William Kruegler wanted to go out into the world and make a difference. 

Born in October of 1930, Father Kruegler lived two blocks from Sacred Heart Church in Troy, was an altar server growing up and graduated from Catholic Central High School in 1948. 

Sister Catherine Kruegler, CSJ, remembers her uncle as mischievous and fun-loving, reflecting back on a time when Father Kruegler and his friends flipped over each trash can on their block. “This was their big hurrah,” Sister Kruegler said, “my grandfather made him go apologize to every family and turn them up right and clean them out.” 

At Catholic Central, he played on the school’s football team, number 38, where he affectionately earned his nickname ‘Mow’ because he used to “mow down the other side,” Sister Kruegler said. 

He struggled in school, though not from lack of effort, and just couldn’t seem to pass Latin. Then one day during his sophomore year, he went on a field trip to Maryknoll Fathers, an international Catholic mission movement, in Ossining that would change everything.

“I don’t know what happened there, but he came home and told his dad he was gonna enter Maryknoll,” Sister Kruegler said, “and from then on he kind of planned to go that direction.” 

Father Kruegler was one of 12 children, the two oldest would enter the Sisters of Saint Joseph, while the two youngest went to Maryknoll. Father Kruegler came from a faith-filled family. Most nights, everyone would make an effort to get home and say the rosary together. Sister Kruegler recalls her grandfather serving at St. Vincent de Paul at Sacred Heart and working with the Catholic Worker. 

According to its website (maryknollsociety.org), Maryknoll “is a U.S. Catholic society of priests and brothers dedicated to missionary work overseas in 22 countries. … The Maryknoll fathers and brothers partner with local churches to bring compassion, relief, and the message of God’s love to the poor on the fringes of society.” October is Missionary Month and Oct. 20 is World Mission Sunday. 

On Sept. 9, 1948, Father Kruegler left Troy to follow his dream to become a Maryknoll priest, serving God in a foreign country. While his academic struggles didn’t disappear — he almost flunked out of seminary school — Father Kruegler never gave up. He got the help he needed and worked extra hours. 

“I really think he is a role model for young people in today’s world who hit obstacles and they quit, and he didn’t, he kept on trying. And that effort went into his adulthood,” Sister Kruegler said. 

MISSION IN BOLIVIA

Ordained on June 8, 1957, his first assignment landed him in Bolivia. After working in various missions and language school, he was finally assigned to Our Lady of Mercy Parish in the little town of Montero, which is located almost in the center of Bolivia, nearly 500 miles east of the capital of La Paz.
Soon after moving, Father Kruegler would meet Manglio Saravia, a Bolivian who lived next to the rectory in an apartment where he was illegally selling liquor. 

At the time, thousands of children were abandoned with most of them surviving on the streets. To make money for food, they often sold gum and shined shoes for bolivianos. Father Kruegler befriended the children, became their advocate, helping them build soap box cars and playing basketball with them in the park. And he always brought one of the two pairs of shoes he owned to get shined. 

William translates to “Guillermo” in Spanish, so his nickname, ‘Mow’ now ‘Mo’ followed him during his mission. When he found out Saravia was exploiting the children by selling them hard liquor for the few coins they had earned, he was angry and intervened.

At the time, the townspeople endured bitter violence on a daily basis. Sister Kruegler equates the environment to that of the Wild West, an under-developed place of corruption and lawlessness. 

“The people would say whenever they hear a car going down the street late at night they were very afraid because political thugs were taking people out of their homes and beating them until they promised to vote for whoever it was,” Sister Kruegler said.

Month after month, Father Kruegler interrupted Saravia’s “business;” he went to the civil authorities to try to remedy the situation on several occasions to no avail. His efforts appeared fruitless, until just after the Bolivia’s Independence Day festivities. It was then that Saravia, after a weekend of drinking, received notice that he was being evicted. 

On the evening of Aug. 7, 1962, after Father Kruegler returned home from the prefecture with Father McCabe and a Salesian priest, Father D’Ana, there was a knock at the door. 

On the other side was an intoxicated Savaria, who would ask Ladi, the young sacristan, for Father Kruegler. As Father Kruegler came to the door, Saravia asked him what time the evening rosary would be held and then shot him four times through the dutch door. 

Father McCabe came immediately to his aid. He called a doctor, but Father Kruegler died shortly after. He was just 31.

To contain Saravia, Father McCabe locked him in the church while he waited for authorities to arrive. Once word got out about what happened, people in the town broke into the church, captured Saravia and hung him in a nearby park.

While funeral arrangements were being made, the townspeople became filled with so much shame for taking action into their own hands, a priest performed confessions for 56 consecutive hours.

Bishop Rodriguez of Santa Cruz celebrated a Pontifical Requiem Mass which was attended by priests, sisters and bishops from La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and surrounding villages. Some 15,000 adults and children mourned and walked in procession to pay tribute to this young priest. The burial was in the cemetery in Montero.

‘I’ll NEVER FORGET IT’

Sister Kruegler still remembers the day she found out her uncle died. She was in the middle of a Monopoly marathon on the lawn with her friends. It was the middle of the summer and she was about to turn 12.

“My dad was working, and you know, you always think of your father as the big strong man who can do anything,” Sister Kruegler said, “but my father knelt down in the middle of the floor and sobbed like a baby, and I’ll never forget it.” The two were close, only four years apart.

There is also a statue of Father Kruegler over his grave in Bolivia, and people rub his toes as they pray — so much so that the toes are almost rubbed off.

Catholic Central High raised $4,000 by collecting change to commemorate Father Kruegler’s death. The funds went to establishing a new parish in Montero, San Francisco de Asis, still an active parish today. Before going to Bolivia, Father Kruegler used the money he received from his ordination and inheritance to set up a trust to be used for indigenous vocations. 

“That’s what he really wanted, men and women from the country to rise up and serve the people,” Sister Kruegler said, “So he left that.”
Maryknoll named Father Kruegler “A Martyr for Youth.”

“Somebody took his life, but he gave his life long before it was taken. He gave his life to the kids and the people there,” Sister Kruegler said.

Sister Kruegler hopes her uncle Bill, along with the other Maryknoll martyrs will be canonized to be recognized as role models for young adults.
Sister Kruegler also reflects on the time she was kidnapped by the Contras, a right-wing rebel group, for 29 hours during a “Witness for Peace” trip in Nicaragua in the 1980s. It was on the anniversary of Father Kruegler’s death: Aug. 7.

“At one moment I was very afraid and I said ‘Bill I know you’re there, please intercede and get us out of here.’ ” Sister Kruegler said, “I do believe that prayer was answered.”