William Henry Ironsides Reaney was a cradle Catholic. He was also cradle Navy, having been born to Commander Henry Aubrey Vailey Reaney and his wife Anne on July 21, 1863. His middle name was Ironsides after the steamer his father was serving aboard. Some accounts say that his birth came unexpectedly as his mother was visiting his father aboard ship. The proud father then asked the crew what name they should call the baby boy and they shouted out, “Ironsides”! Probably apocryphal, but it was a fitting beginning for the man if true.
After the Civil War, Henry Reaney stayed in the Navy, eventually reaching the rank of Captain, while he and his wife had six children in addition to their first born, William. The family settled in Detroit, and William graduated from Detroit College. Deciding on becoming a priest, William enrolled at the Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained by Cardinal Gibbon at the Cathedral in Baltimore in 1888. From 1889-1891 he was pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
The ancestral lure of the sea called to Father Reaney, and in 1892 he was appointed a chaplain in the Navy, the second Catholic chaplain in that branch of the service. He served on many ships as a Navy Chaplain, perhaps the most notable being the Olympia, the flagship of Admiral Dewey during the Spanish-American war.