He skydived, but his life is well grounded

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Viatorian Father Charles Bolser, pastor at St. Viator Parish, 4170 W. Addison. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Viatorian Father Charles Bolser, pastor of St. Viator Parish on the North Side. Ordained in 1973 in Springfield, Ill., by Bishop William O’Connor. Was a teacher, a high school principal in Las Vegas, pastor in Bourbonnais, Ill.; was president of St. Viator High School, Arlington Heights, and St. Martin de Porres High School in Waukegan. He has also served a four-year term as provincial of the Viatorians.

Youth: “I was born in Rantoul down in Champaign County. Went to grade school to the Springfield Dominicans, and then a public high school. Dad worked at Chanute Air Force Base as a civilian in the fuel depot. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were from Rantoul. It was an all-farming community at one time. My mother was a Quinlan and she married my Dutchman/German father.” He is the oldest of seven siblings.

Best memory: “That would be family. A huge family, cousins everywhere, aunts, uncles, grandparents. A small town where everyone knew everyone. You had a sense of security. You were never too far from somebody you knew. I could walk home from school and stop at my grandparents’ house or my great-aunt’s, and they always had homemade cookies. It was a real luxury. A lot of kids don’t have that today.”

Vocation: “I joined the Air Force for four years in the 1950s — three years in France and one here in the States. When I got out the first thing I did was buy my first car, a ’56 Dodge Coronet. It was used but it was cool. It was the first car we had in our family. My dad was legally blind and my mom didn’t drive. We used it as a ‘family’ car and I loved it.

“I worked for the post office a couple years and then joined the Viatorians.” He earned an undergrad degree in anthropology at Loyola University Chicago and then studied theology in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Theological Coalition. Came back and taught at Bishop Griffin High School in Springfield in the 1960s. (The Viatorians are mainly a teaching order founded as a community of catechists.)  “I’ve enjoyed the great ride and it’s not over yet. I love it here at St. Viator Parish, it’s moving, it’s filled with life and we’re growing. Like the old song says, ‘St. Peter, don’t you call me cause I can’t go …’”

Prayer life: “We have a community retreat, but I like to go to a hermitage in Tucson, the Redemptorist Desert House of Prayer. They have a little cabin in the desert — no radio, TV or newspapers -- just me, the cactus, rattlesnakes and the sun. I take a week there in solitude. I need to get out of the process. I back off with some books and Scripture.”

Books: “I just finished one of Sister Sandra Schneiders,’ and one by Sister Elizabeth Johnson, ‘The Quest for the Living God.’ Another recent one was ‘Wake Up Lazarus: On Catholic Renewal,’ by Pierre Hegy, very fine. One of my all-time favorites is Teilhard de Chardin.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “St. John is my favorite Gospel, and Job is a good story-teller. I use Genesis a lot, in a sense of talking between Genesis, the Word of God, and the Word of God in John, and how the Word becomes incased in human flesh -- and here we are! When I give a retreat I sometimes use that as a theme.”

Leisure: “I like to take the bus downtown and walk over to Millennium Park or Grant Park, sit and people-watch, enjoy the sun, and be out of here. I enjoy the city, the energy of it, and sometimes have the opportunity for a good musical or a play.”

Hobbies: “I make some damn good chili. I’ll make a big pot for the staff in the rectory. In the past I’ve skydived five times. My goal was to solo, so I did the tandem jumps and then my solo jump. I had wanted to do it. When I was president of St. Viator High School I used it as a dare to the kids: ‘I will skydive if you raise X-number of dollars as a school fundraiser.’ The principal and one of the counselors skydived with me. We were 15,000 feet high — did a 10,000 foot free-fall and had a ball. I’m going back I think next year and celebrate my 75th birthday.”