Father Willard was born at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria on September 9, 1966. He has two brothers and his father living in Peoria and a sister in Leroy, Illinois. During childhood, Father Willard lived in Peoria Heights and attended St. Thomas the Apostle Church and School. In 1981, he graduated from St. Thomas and proceeded to the Academy of Our Lady/Spalding Institute for high school. Following high school, he entered the Seminary for the Diocese of Peoria, attending Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary and St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minnesota, and later Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, graduating in 1989. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese on May 29, 1993.
Celebrating his 25th Anniversary as a priest in 2018, his initial assignment was as a Parochial Vicar at Holy Trinity in Bloomington for four years. Subsequently, he served six years as the Pastor at St. Mary’s in Downs, also assuming the role of High School Chaplain at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington. The following ten years were spent in the Champaign area, serving as Pastor at St. Thomas in Philo, Immaculate Conception in Bongard, and St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s in Pesotum for two years. For the next eight years, he was the Pastor at Holy Cross Church in Champaign. Prior to being assigned at St. Vincent de Paul, Father was the Pastor of St. Monica’s in East Peoria an St. Patrick’s in Washington.
Father Willard truly believes when we say yes to God’s will, miracles happen.