St. William was a descendant of the family of the ancient Counts of Nevers. He was educated under the care of Peter, Archdeacon of Soissons, his maternal uncle. At an early age he learned to despite the vanities of the World and to give himself with ardor to exercises of piety and to the acquisition of knowledge. On entering the ecclesiastical state he became Canon of Soissons and of Paris. Later he resolved to abandon the world and enter the Order of Grammont.
William lived in this Order for some time and practiced great austerities. Dissensions arose between the fathers and lay brothers, which caused him to pass over to the austere Order of Citeaux that had recently been founded.
The Saint took the habit at Pontigny, and after some time became Abbot, first of Fontaine Jean, and later of Chaalis near Senlis.
William had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and loved to spend much of his time at the foot of the altar. In the year 1200 the clergy of the Church of Bourges elected him to succeed Henry de Sully, their Archbishop; but the news overwhelmed him with grief, and only a double command from his general, the Abbot of Citeaux, and from the Pope could move him to accept the dignity. In his new office he redoubled his austerities; he constantly wore a hair shirt and never ate flesh meat.
William was preparing for a mission among the Albigenses when he died kneeling at prayer in 1209. As he had requested, he was buried in ashes wearing a hair shirt and was canonized in 1217 by Pope Honorius III.
PRAYER: Almighty and ever-living God, You willed to make Bishop William rule over Your people. Grant by his interceding merits that we may receive the grace of Your mercy. Amen.