A constant presence at two Catholic churches East of the River and a fervent mathematician, Deacon William Anthony Hawkins, Jr. is a respected and positive fixture in his Penn Branch neighborhood that he has lived since 1983.
Deacon Hawkins serves as the Ordinary Minister on Saturday afternoons at St. Francis Xavier Church in Ward 7 as well as Sunday mornings at Saint Teresa of Avila Church in Ward 8. The Ordinary Minister, like the priest, regularly disseminates the Eucharist to the congregation. The deacon is a tithing member of both parishes.
“Normally at Saint Francis I expect to just read the Gospel whereas at Saint Teresa I will also preach. Monsignor (Raymond G. East, the pastor) lets me basically have free reign at Saint Teresa. I am scheduled to preach the first Saturday in May at Saint Francis. When I preach the Gospel, I have everything written out. In the Catholic Church, the job of the preacher is to break open the Word,” said Deacon Hawkins who has occasionally performed baptisms, marriages and even funerals with permission from a church’s priest beforehand.
Hawkins is an easygoing person who is especially passionate about three things in life—his love for God, family and a particular fondness for studying and teaching mathematics.
“I’ve loved math my whole life and I later developed a life-long love for teaching. I enjoyed being around young people and I liked teaching. Put them together and that’s what drove my love for teaching,” said Hawkins, 73, who retired from the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) faculty in 2015 after being an educator and math promoter for 45 years.
The only child of Amanda L. (Bowman) Hawkins and William Anthony Hawkins, Sr., he was
a member of the first 8th Grade graduating class in 1960 at the Holy Redeemer Catholic School. He attended high school at the popular Archbishop Carroll High School before enrolling as a math major at Merrimack College which is close to Boston. Hawkins stayed for a year before returning to the District, enrolling at Howard University and earning his Bachelor of Science in mathematics.
A Love of Numbers
Hawkins began his teaching career at Francis L. Cardozo Senior High School in northwest DC. A couple of years later, after earning a master’s degree in physics at Howard, he went to the University of Michigan to get his second master’s degree in the field of mathematics.
Upon his return to the nation’s capital in latter part of 1970, Hawkins attempted to teach at the high school again but found his path blocked largely because of the bureaucracy of the school system. Luckily, he learned of an opportunity to become a professor at the local Federal City College which is today known as UDC. He spent four successful years at the college until he decided to take a formal leave of absence and return to the University of Michigan for a doctorate degree which he acquired in four years.
“I had some challenges but didn’t face too much adversity (as a mathematician) that I couldn’t handle because I got my bachelor’s degree and first masters at Howard, a historically black college, and then taught at Federal City, a historically black college,” said the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity member who headed the department in the mid 1980’s.
Around 1985 Dr. Hawkins was invited to become a member of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). He left UDC for another spell to recruit young, minority students to the field of mathematics. MAA is a professional society that focuses on mathematics at the undergraduate level. Members represent university, college and high school educators; graduate and undergraduate students; pure and applied mathematicians; computer scientists; statisticians and many other math enthusiasts in academia, government, business and other related industries.
A Spiritual Calling
During the first 19 years of his life Hawkins was a devout Roman Catholic. He received four of the seven sacraments—Baptism, Confession, Holy Communion and Confirmation. He primarily attended Catholic. That devotion basically stopped for Hawkins as he enjoyed young adulthood as an undergraduate studying math and becoming interested in the Civil Rights Movement. His priorities shifted from attending weekly mass to other life pursuits.
During this period, Hawkins met the love of his life, Audrey Wheeler, whom he married in 1972. She was the younger sister of one of his students at Federal College who had invited him to an after-hours event. Approximately one-third of the students that Hawkins taught at Federal College were older than him.
The couple celebrated their 48th anniversary last November. They are the proud parents of three adult children (Ayanna, Osei and Okera) and six grandchildren.
“I don’t know the secret to a successful marriage. But my parents only separated when my mom died in 1988. They got married in 1945 and loved each other. They were excellent role models. I was always taught, perhaps as a Catholic, that marriage was for the long haul. I got lucky and consider it a blessing to have found the perfect spouse and fit for me. She’s always been loving and supportive. I wouldn’t have achieved half of my success without her. Every married deacon candidate must get official approval from his wife before the man can become a deacon. Audrey gave her approval.”
A sort of religious epiphany occurred with Dr. Hawkins around his 38th birthday. His father had suffered a stroke around that time; his children were attending St. Francis Xavier Academy and he felt it was time for him to reconnect with the church.
Not only did Dr. Hawkins begin attending weekly mass again, but he also joined the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) ministry at St. Francis Xavier Church and with the blessing of the then pastor, Rev. David Bava, and a dedicated nun, Sr. Maria Raphaela, got inspired to become an ordained deacon. It took five years to complete the process at the pastoral center in Hyattsville, where the Archdiocese of Washington has its headquarters, but the math educator became Deacon Hawkins in 2004. He was ordained with approximately 20 other men, two of whom later decided to join the priesthood and one, Roy Edward Campbell , who moved up the ranks and currently serves the church as an auxiliary bishop.
“He has always been sincere and was anxious to join the Knights of Columbus when I invited him to become a member. Deacon Hawkins is a stand-up guy and a family man,” said Henry T. Hinnant, Jr., a long-time parishioner of St. Teresa of Avila and current treasurer of the Knights of Columbus’ Bishop Patrick J. Byrne Council #3877.
Family, like the church and math, remains vital to the deacon and especially now during this pandemic when relationships have been known to become strained.
“The biggest challenge of being a deacon is learning to put other people first. The same can be said about being a successful husband or father. Family dynamics can be challenging. COVID-19 may make families appreciate each other more. It has forced families to be apart and we know that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Everybody now really sees the value of family.”