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March 3 - March 16, 2013

Call him a pied piper, drawing young adults to Lourdes

By Dolores Madlener


Father Wayne Watts receives the medal for the honorary chaplains of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France in 2008. The rector of the shrine bestowed the honor. Father Watts is associate administrator of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and pastor of St. John Berchmans Parish, 2517 W. Logan Blvd. Michael May / Catholic New World

He is: Father Wayne Watts, pastor since 2006 of St. John Berchmans Parish in the Logan Square neighborhood. Associate administrator at Catholic Charities since 2002. Former faculty member of Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary. Ordained at Mundelein Seminary in 1990.

Youth: “I grew up in St. Giles Parish, Oak Park, and went to St. Giles School, then Fenwick High School. After graduating from Marquette University in Milwaukee I entered Mundelein Seminary.

“Mom was a teacher in Catholic schools up until three months before she died when I was 18. My dad was an OB-GYN. Dad just died in 2012. I live in gratitude for my parents’ generosity and example. They were wonderful people who put their beliefs into action. I have four brothers and four sisters. I couldn’t be the priest I am without their amazing support.”

The call: “When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, there was a priest I respected who had the same first two names as I, Wayne Francis. He is now Msgr. Wayne Francis Prist. He said to me, ‘Maybe someday there will be another Wayne Francis who will be a priest.’ I remember thinking, ‘Not this one,’ but God had other plans. I lived with him for 10 years at Queen of All Saints Parish. He’s been a great model for me.

“Another priest who also strongly encouraged me was my teacher at Fenwick and a Dominican at the time. He told me it came out of a prayer. That is Father Peter Heidenrich, pastor at St. Athanasius in Evanston. Then Father Ed Harnett, my first pastor, and the people of St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette, really taught me how to be a priest.”

Going to Lourdes: The pope announced his resignation on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. “I think maybe she was guiding him on the decision. I’ve been to Lourdes about 30 times. I take young people every summer and we go to help the sick. I’ve taken adults in the fall, but right now I make just one trip, so July 31 we’ll go again. Their ages are between 16 and 25, from late high school through college. They’re just recruited through word of mouth. It’s not an easy trip, yet many return.”

“I learn something new every time. I’ve learned the importance of acting with kindness and charity. In Lourdes the sick, the ‘Malades’ are the VIPs. We’re invited to treat them as we would treat Christ. I helped Cardinal George lead the archdiocesan pilgrimage in 2008. That was a spectacular trip. There were about 200 who went with the cardinal.

“Our young people fostered a relationship with a diocese in Eastern France called Belley-Ars. The bishop of Belley-Ars at the time was so impressed with our kids he wrote the cardinal saying maybe we can do a ‘twinning.’ When the official twinning took place, the bishop of Lourdes was there with Cardinal George and the bishop of Belley-Ars. The mayor of Lourdes came to honor both dioceses. Pretty powerful. So we continue to plan our trip around their dates -- we meet them and help them every year.”

Pilgrimage effects: “Mary’s message to Bernadette and all of us, reminds me to be faithful in prayer, to do penance and seek happiness in the next world. Bernadette is also a great example of perseverance for me. She’s a young person who encountered obstacles in delivering the message she was given. But she never gave up.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is we now have five alums from the Lourdes pilgrimages who have been ordained priests. Two mentioned the pilgrimage as a turning point in their vocation.

New evangelization: In 2000 he and Bishop Kicanas worked on a successful ad campaign for vocations. “It was called ‘Consider the priesthood.’  The words on the billboards read: ‘If you’re waiting for a ‘sign’ from God -- this is it!’ It would be fun to do something like that again.”

He currently works with the Junior Board of Catholic Charities. “We find young adults who want to be involved in the mission of Charities. We do it through faith formation, service opportunities and social experiences. Some have come on the pilgrimage and some of my alums have joined the Junior Board.”

He’s on Twitter and LinkedIn. How does he use these to evangelize? “Well I surely keep in contact with the young people with whom I’ve worked, with the people from my past parishes as well as my present parish, where the staff makes my load light.”

Downtime: “I like to travel, besides Lourdes. Costa Rica is a good place to relax and work on my Spanish. I belong to a health club -- exercise is part of a regular routine. I just finished reading “How God Became King,” by N. T. Wright. A great book.

“I’m in the advanced pastoral leadership program of the archdiocese, co-sponsored by Mundelein and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, so I read a lot of their suggested materials. It’s a wonderful program and a lot of the articles we’ve been asked to read are from the Harvard Business Review so I’ve just subscribed to that.”

Saints and Scripture: “The feast day here at St. John Berchmans, is Nov. 26, my birthday. He was a young guy known for simple acts of holiness and charity, a great model. I have a strong devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis de Sales are good friends and companions. I use a lot of St. Francis de Sales’ writings. His ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ is great and he has this little book of ‘Golden Counsels’ that fits in your back pocket. My favorite Scripture verse is from Psalm 40: “Here am I Lord, I come to do your will.”