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Priest donates $1 million for Colorado State professorship

January 1, 2019

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — A real estate investor-turned priest donated nearly $1 million to fund an endowed faculty position for theology at Colorado State University.

Don Willette, now retired, sold two pieces of property that he bought before becoming a priest — a rental property in Firestone and a cabin in Masonville — and donated the proceeds toward the new position, The Fort Collins Coloradan newspaper reported Monday.

The focus of the post will be the history and theological traditions of Christianity, the university said.

Ben Withers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the new faculty member would be “a catalyst for dialogue and conversation that would enrich the ‘humanness’ of students and faculty on campus.”

The position will be open to candidates of all Christian denominations, and the professor will not steer students toward one faith, Withers said.

“This can provide a safe place for young people and for faculty to be challenged with questions, to pursue truth, goodness and humanity,” Willette said.

He said it will take about $1.5 million to fully fund the endowment, with the rest of the money coming from fundraising.

“I’m confident the rest will come,” Willette said. “The university was willing to take that risk, too.”

The university will begin advertising for the position this month, he said.

Willette, 77, took a circuitous route to the priesthood. He attended seminary when he was young but joined the Air Force in 1967, served three tours in Vietnam as a radar operator and then worked in satellite surveillance and intelligence. He retired as a colonel.

He worked in the restaurant business as well as real estate. Willette said he survived a serious car crash in 1983 that set him on a path back to seminary.

Willette served at various parishes along Colorado’s Front Range, including Saint John XXIII Catholic Church in Fort Collins.

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Information from: Fort Collins Coloradoan, http://www.coloradoan.com

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