He thanks the Army for his priesthood

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, March 9, 2014

He is: Father Robert Coleman, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church on 44th Street, former pastor of St. Philomena and former pastor in Zacualpan, Mexico. Ordained at Mundelein in 1978.

Family life: “I grew up on the Southwest Side in St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish (not far from here), and went to Brother Rice High School. I come from a big Irish family. There are six boys and two girls. We had a typical Catholic upbringing. Dad worked for Illinois Bell Telephone Company. When Mom was 38 they  already had six kids. The doctor announced she was pregnant with twins. She’d been a stay at home mom, of course, until my dad died at age 51. Then she went to work for the Board of Education with the lunch program and died at 57.

“Growing up we were a sports-centered family. It was a big part of our life. Sports helped in the goofy 60s to keep us out of trouble. We were a non-professional hockey family.  I was skating by the time I was 5. My father was a big hockey player. My bother, who’s a year older than me, he’s 67, still plays organized hockey. The Coleman name is known at all the ice rinks around the city – there’s also nieces and nephews. Another brother who’s a fireman is a hockey coach at Brother Rice and his son is the hockey coach at St. Rita’s.”

Priesthood: “I went to Wilson Junior College in Chicago; it’s closed now.  I was drafted into the U.S. Army and served at Fort Hood, Texas, in the armored division. The Vietnam War was winding down. I was in for about two years. It was while in the army I met some really good priests and chaplains and they encouraged me to look at priesthood. When I came home I entered the seminary at Niles College and then Mundelein.”

Hispanic ministry: “When I was in the seminary Bishop Nevin Hayes encouraged our class to learn Spanish and get involved in Spanish ministry. As an auxiliary bishop he’d go to Mundelein once a week and give us Spanish classes. About six of us took him up on it and after ordination went into Spanish ministry. Then I did a missionary stint in Mexico that lasted 14 years. Cardinal George had just arrived in Chicago and gave me permission. I liked it so much I stayed. I was in southern Mexico where it’s warm all year round, then the last five years the bishop asked me to go to a poor, poor parish up in the mountains in Zacualpan. God has a sense of humor. I’d taken all this time to learn Spanish and these people spoke an Indian dialect. It was a wonderful experience. Eventually for health reasons it was time to come back, but I’d been in contact with Cardinal George all of the time.”

Parish work: “My whole priesthood has been in Spanish ministries, at St. Mary of the Lake Parish, a year at Good Shepherd on the south side, then they asked me to be pastor at St. Philomena’s.  I find parish work fulfilling, demanding, and certainly not boring. No two days are the same. It’s especially rewarding this year because we’re celebrating Immaculate Conception’s centennial. We’ve gone from a Lithuanian parish to a Mexican parish, but Lithuanians still come back for the weekly Lithuanian Mass and for funerals. On April 5 at 2 p.m. we’ll have a special jubilee Mass and little reception, so we’re inviting former parishioners and alumni of our school to join us.”

Prayer life: “God has the first appointment. We have an adoration chapel open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. I like to begin my day there with a holy hour, including meditation. I get the Rosary in every day, driving or walking somewhere. In the evening I pray vespers.”

Leisure: “I like to read lives of the saints. They’re our examples. One time I read a book about the ‘defects’ of the saints and learned about their human side. It can encourage us. I follow sports. I like to ice skate, obviously. McKinley Park is nearby and has an ice rink. I don’t play hockey any more. In the summer I bike ride or take a walk. I enjoy the outdoors, including the snow!”

Favorite saint and Scripture: “After our Blessed Mother, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. John Vianney, and the Little Flower as patron of missions. And Mark 8:35, ‘Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.’”


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