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Simple lives lead to loving legacy of forming priests

The bride…chose a gown of misty white linen,” were the words the Denver Post used to describe the wedding day on Oct. 5, 1968 between Helen McManus and Edward Billiard. It was the only time this couple would make news in their modest lives together, but their legacy to the future of the Catholic Church will be profound.

The Billiards bequeathed one of the largest gifts ever given to the Archdiocese of Denver seminaries to help the formation of priests, a cause dear to their hearts. They made this gift after their deaths without fanfare or even the opportunity to receive the gratitude of the young men who will be educated for decades thanks to the Billiards.

“This couple lived simply and privately and would not have wanted recognition or attention for this act of generosity — yet this is a tremendous gift and is an inspiration for all of us who think we may not have the means to make great works happen in Christ’s name,” said Paul Dudzic, Chief Mission Advancement Officer. 

Helen and Edward Billiard lived a simple, humble life as a married couple, were active at their parish, and had a deep appreciation for the men who serve the Church as priests. After their passing, they bequeathed one of the largest gifts ever given to the Archdiocese of Denver seminaries, which will support the future of the Catholic Church by educating and nurturing young men dedicated to their path to priesthood. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

Despite their anonymity, the Billiards experienced rather extraordinary events before meeting in mid-century Denver. McManus was born in Conception, Mo., the youngest of six children. Her older sisters became nuns, but McManus’ father drove the teenager to the now Benedictine College where she participated in a work study program to pay for classes before taking a job as a dietician for Kansas City Schools.

McManus spread her wings in Colorado in the 1950s and worked for the University of Colorado Hospital as a nutritionist until her retirement. She traveled to Cuba and loved to dance which paved the way for her relationship with Billiard. 

Billiard was a saxophonist and band leader of the “Mello Tones,” a Denver swing band. Like a scene from a movie, the musician spotted his future wife from the stage and told his bandmates to keep playing without him so he could ask the lady to dance.

As a young adult, Billiard had served his country and at one time owned a grocery store with his brother near Pueblo. After he moved to the Denver area, he worked as a postal worker during the day and played in the band in the evenings with McManus by his side.

The couple married when they were in their forties and never had children, but they were active at St. Jude Catholic Church in Lakewood and even founded a popular over 55 social club that took day trips and organized luncheons. 

Helen and Eddie Billiard continued their humble and yet extraordinary lives with little need for worldly possessions, but quietly amassing wealth. As children of the depression, the Billiards understood how to save. Eddie enjoyed giving Helen gifts of jewelry and nice clothes, but the couple mostly saved and invested their money.

“This couple lived simply and privately and would not have wanted recognition or attention for this act of generosity — yet this is a tremendous gift and is an inspiration for all of us who think we may not have the means to make great works happen in Christ’s name.”

Eddie Billiard got sick with stomach cancer and died in 2002. His much beloved wife, Helen, lived to celebrate her 97th birthday but passed away in 2020. She requested the same kind of casket as her late husband with one difference — her casket included a small pocket on the inside to hold a love letter she received from Eddie. They are buried together in Fort Logan.

Much of their wealth wasn’t discovered until after their deaths, but their wishes were clear. They gave generously to their church, the organizations that educated her and her sisters, and most importantly, to form priests. 

These two simple, yet extraordinary people, will be remembered and prayed for because they left a gift that will support the future of the Catholic Church by educating and nurturing young men dedicated to their path to priesthood. 

We are uniquely blessed to have two seminaries in the Archdiocese of Denver that help answer God’s call to serve his Church. St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary offer two distinct Paths to the Priesthood with a shared goal of strengthening the future of the Catholic Church. Without donors, there are no seminaries to form good priests. 

These young men need support to fulfill their calling to continue our Lord’s work. Please consider a gift today to the Annual Seminaries’ Appeal at archden.org/futurepriests or call donor relations at 303-867-0614.

Amy Bryer Brumley
Amy is the Mission Advancement Communications Manager for the Archdiocese of Denver.
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