Religious orders bring different flavor to local parishes

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
November 20, 2018

Conventual Franciscans pray during a service at St. Ita Church, 5500 N. Broadway, on Jan. 24, 2018. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Parishes administered by members of religious congregations are scattered throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago. There are parishes run by the Resurrectionists in traditionally Polish neighborhoods, by the Dominicans in Pilsen and in suburban River Forest, by Paulists in the South Loop and by Conventual Franciscans in Edgewater.

Teresa Gamboa has been a parishioner at St. Ita, 5500 N. Broadway, for more than 30 years. She has seen changes since the Conventual Franciscans were invited to staff the parish in 2016, including a greater emphasis on traditional devotions — for instance, Tuesday prayers to St. Anthony of Padua.

She also has seen the friars’ commitment to their charism.

“They’re very humble,” she said. “They’re into a lot of good works. And they are able to maintain the direction they are going in.”

Like many of the parishioners, she said, she was a little worried when she found out they were coming.

“Father Andre (Father Jo Andre Beltran, the former pastor) told us not to worry,” Gamboa said. “He told us we would be in good hands.”

Now there are several new ministries; Gamboa participates in the St. Claire ministry, sewing habits for Franciscan postulants.

So does Juliette Comcom, a parishioner since 1985 who became more involved with the church when her family obligations eased 10 years ago.

“Father Andre was from our country, so we were very supportive of him,” said Comcom, who was born in the Philippines. “Before, I feel like it was a family-like atmosphere. It was more trying to meet the demands of the daily living. With the Franciscans, it is more spiritual. It brings you closer to the Lord.”

Foli Tomety said that Franciscans brought with them more opportunities to pray in the church, and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.

“There is more opportunity to talk with the priests,” he said. “They have a real concern for the parishioners.”

Tomety spoke after a daily Mass, St. Anthony devotions and a rosary on a Tuesday morning in September. He was on strike from his hotel job.

“A couple of weeks ago, Father Bob came up to me and said, ‘You look like you have a problem,’” Tomety said. “I was going through some things.”

During the strike, Cook took time to visit Tomety and his coworkers on the picket line.

“It shows he cares about people,” Tomety said, displaying a picture of Cook with him on the picket line on his phone. “They (the Franciscans) are doing an amazing job. Even though they have a busy schedule, they are trying their best to listen to their parishioners.”

In some cases, religious orders are brought in specifically because they can relate to their parishioners.

Resurrectionist Brother William Hallas said his congregation has been staffing Chicago parishes since its members first arrived to serve the parishioners of then-predominantly Polish St. Stanislaus Kostka in 1870.

The decision was not made without controversy, however: Resurrectionist Father John Wollowski arrived to take up the pastorate in 1869 only to find a diocesan priest had been named pastor the previous month, according to “A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago.” The following year, parishioners asked Resurrectionist Father Adolph Bakanowski to take charge; after he refused, six men beat the diocesan pastor, who left the diocese shortly thereafter. Then Bishop Thomas Foley asked Bakanowski to take charge.

According to the written history, Bishop Foley was so impressed with the Resurrectionists’ superior general that in 1871, he gave the Resurrectionists the right to staff all the Polish parishes in Chicago for the next 99 years.

St. Stanislaus, considered the “mother church” of Chicago’s Polish community, once had 8,000 families registered, and nine Resurrectionist priests were assigned there in the early 20th century. Now the only priest assigned to the parish is Resurrectionist Father Anthony Bus, who celebrates Mass each weekend in English, Polish and Spanish.

The order also continues to staff several of the archdiocese’s traditionally Polish parishes, including St. Hyacinth Basilica, St. Hedwig and St. Wenceslaus.

“We serve at the pleasure of the bishop,” Brother Bill said.

The congregation also has sent priests to parishes that don’t necessarily have the same Polish heritage.

“Dioceses will call religious communities on a regular basis to see if they can send someone,” Hallas said. The challenge can be finding ways for the men to truly be in community if they are the only member assigned to a parish, especially not one that has other Resurrectionists assigned nearby, he added.

Dominican Father Thomas McDermott, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in River Forest, said that parishioners there might benefit from the 13 friars who live in the priory.

“In our case, we have a rather communal approach to ministry in the parish,” he said.

McDermott is pastor, and he has two parochial vicars, who fill the role of associate pastors. But there are several others in residence: teachers at nearby Fenwick High School, a hospital chaplain and itinerant preachers and mission leaders. The priory itself has a superior, who can be but is not always the pastor of the parish.

Unlike St. Ita and the Resurrectionist parishes, the Dominicans own St. Vincent Ferrer’s buildings and grounds. There are a handful of other parishes in the archdiocese owned by religious communities, he said, but most — like the Dominican-staffed St. Pius V Parish, 1919 S. Ashland Ave. — are technically owned by the Archbishop of Chicago in his role as corporation sole.

However, they are generally staffed the same way, with the congregation’s provincial naming the pastoral staff with the approval of the archbishop.

Religious communities who staff parishes live much like any other religious community, he said.

“We pray in common, we eat in common,” McDermott said. “We live rather simply.”

For example, the friars have the use of a car, but none of them own a personal car.

The Dominican charism of preaching and teaching is reflected in the life of the church, McDermott said.

“You see Dominican symbols and so forth,” he said. “Each order has its own charisms for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God. In a Franciscan parish, for example, you would expect an emphasis on helping the poor and simplicity of lifestyle. With the Dominicans, there would be an emphasis on the study of the truth.”

There also are occasional talks about Dominican saints. On Sundays, the friars do their community prayer at 5 p.m. in the church, with any parishioners who come.


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