Chicagoland

Bishop Rassas: ‘I’m the luckiest person in the world’

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
September 5, 2018

Bishop Rassas: ‘I’m the luckiest person in the world’

Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas is retiring after turning 75. He has served as an auxiliary bishop since 2006.
Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas talks to Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools, in one of the common areas of the new campus of Cristo Rey St. Martin de Porres College Prep in Waukegan Feb. 13. Bishop Rassas founded the school in 2004. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas administers the sacrament of confirmation at St. Stephen Deacon and Martyr in Tinley Park on March 9, 2013. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When this newspaper, at the time called the Catholic New World, interviewed Auxiliary Bishop George Rassas right before his ordination in 2006,  he said, “I’m the luckiest person in the world.”

When we interviewed him prior to his retirement, his opinion had not changed. 

“I still feel like I’m the luckiest person in the whole world,” Bishop Rassas said.

Bishop Rassas, a native of Baltimore, attended Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity School, Quigley Preparatory Seminary, Niles College and Mundelein Seminary before being ordained a priest in 1968. 

He served as an associate pastor at Queen of the Rosary, Elk Grove Village (1968-1974); St. Genevieve (1974-1983), St. Norbert, Northbrook (1983-1988); Sacred Heart, Hubbard Woods (1988-1990) before being named pastor of St. Mary, Lake Forest (1990-2004). 

He served as the archdiocese’s vicar general from 2004 through 2006. In other roles, Bishop Rassas was director of the Office of Family Ministries (1984-1990); assistant director of the Catholic Family Consultation Service (1975-1984); and associate moderator of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women (1976-1984).

As the oldest of six children, he has always enjoyed working with young people. His sense of humor often comes out when he does confirmations around the archdiocese. 

Bishop Rassas knows the teens are nervous because they were likely told the bishop is going to ask them some tough questions before he confirms them, so he tries to loosen them up with humor. 

He starts off telling them he’s from Libertyville, but since they usually don’t know where that is he follows up with, “I’m also the bishop of Six Flags Great America. It’s just right up the street.”

Because bishops conduct several dozen confirmations each year they usually have a set homily they have worked out. Bishop Rassas’ homily covers four points: Dare to be different; What would Jesus do?; How are you going to use your gifts to make a difference in our world?; How are you going to keep the faith alive?

His interest in building strong futures for young people led him to found Cristo Rey St. Martin de Porres College Prep in Waukegan while he was pastor of St. Mary Parish in Lake Forest, an affluent parish with sharing parishes in south Waukegan. 

The parish distributed 10 percent of its income to charities, including scholarships for students of limited means to attend Catholic high schools such as Carmel Catholic in Mundelein and Woodlands Academy in Lake Forest.

“We were finding very quickly that kids would get there for a year and realize that they were just a world away from Waukegan,” said Bishop Rassas. 

He became aware of Cristo Rey High School in Pilsen, which opened under a college prep-work study model that served only low-income students, and he  reached out to the Cristo Rey Network about starting a school in Waukegan. The Cristo Rey Network gave startup funds for the school, and the rest is history. 

The school recently moved into a newly renovated former Kmart store that offers much more space, large skylights and windows and state-of-the-art equipment. More phases of construction are planned.

Bishop Rassas will work to finish the school in his retirement and help out in the archdiocese wherever he’s needed. 

He is already someone people regularly seek out for advice, especially seminarians and priests. 

“Especially when I talk to seminarians, I always say, ‘You know, I’ve always done what I’ve been asked to do. It’s never really been my choice,’” Bishop Rassas said. “Even though I went to places I had not chosen, every place I’ve been I’d just meet so many wonderful people.”

He also advises young people to follow their hearts.

“If it’s not in your heart, it’s not going to work,” he said. “I learned that from Cardinal George.”

Even bishops seek his advice.

Right after Bishop Robert Barron was named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Bishop Rassas ran into him at a board meeting for Mundelein Seminary. Bishop Barron had just returned from the announcement in Los Angeles. 

“He said, ‘You have to tell me what I need to know to be an auxiliary bishop,’” Bishop Rassas recalled. 

“I said, ‘First and foremost, your responsibility as an auxiliary to your region of the diocese is that you have to be a pastor to your priests, your parish staff and be present in the parishes,” he said. Second, he told Bishop Barron to manage his calendar well for all of the confirmations. 

Bishop Barron then asked him when to wear the bishop’s clothes. Bishop Rassas replied, “As little as possible.”

Topics:

  • bishops

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