Paul Schlegel has lost count of the number of times he witnessed Poverello founder Father Bill Collins administer to men dying of HIV/AIDS in hospitals. But Schlegel has no problem remembering how Collins, who died on May 10, treated those men.
“I’m sure its hundreds of men [he administered to],” said Schlegel, a former Poverello board member and an attorney who wrote wills for many of those men. Schlegel first met the Franciscan priest in the mid-80s after he graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.
“They made us dress up like astronauts [in the hospital because no one understood yet how the disease was transmitted]. It was a very different time.”
But Schlegel said the then-unknown nature of the disease didn’t stop Collins from showing each man love and compassion, something that sometimes even their own families failed to do. “He couldn’t have been more loving. He was very hands on, very physical with a lot of the patients at the time when people were afraid to touch them. It was the opposite of what they expected from a religious figure,” said Schlegel, who chose Collins to be godfather of both his children.
“He treated [those dying men] like normal human beings. Which, in and of itself, was a revelation to some of these people. I really think that he was the closest thing to a saint that I will ever meet. He was a marvelous human being.”
Like Schlegel, others who knew Collins have similar stories of his compassion and humanity and the makers of a documentary want to ensure the stories about Collins live on.
Gary Metz, president and CEO of Mobility Television, is producing “The Journey of a Saint, Father Bill.” He said he hopes to create a 30 to 60-minute documentary on the life of Collins. But the length will depend on how many people submit to be interviewed on camera.
“The primary purpose is to build awareness of Poverello,” said Metz.
The trailer for the documentary will be shown during Poverello’s open house on Monday, June 12 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. A media station will be set up for individuals to watch it on.
Metz said the documentary will feature members of Collins’ family, prominent local individuals, medical professionals, and people who worked with Collins and those who benefited from his work. The medical professionals will talk about HIV and how it ultimately inspired Collins to do what he did.
“We’re going to hit it at multiple angles,” Metz said.
As for Metz, he has his own story of Collins to tell.
“I knew Father Bill back when he first started in Pompano Beach. I used to ride with Father Bill when he delivered food out of the back of his car.” It wasn’t long until he noticed Collins smoked cigarettes. “I said, ‘wow, you’re a priest and you smoke? Cool. Can I bum one off you?’”