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South Side Irish, with a keen eye for bargains

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Father Mark Canavan, pastor, St. Louis de Montfort in Oak Lawn. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Mark Canavan, pastor of St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Oak Lawn. Former pastor of St. Frances of Rome, Cicero. Attended Quigley North and South. Ordained at Mundelein Seminary in 1971.

Growing up: We were members of St. Brendan Parish in Englewood, originally. Then my mother was able to get me into first grade at age 5 in nearby Sacred Heart. In 1971, 20 years later, I was ordained a priest. I have a sister two years younger than I. Dad was a foreman with the gas company. Worked outside until he was 65, digging holes and repairing pipes, here, there and everywhere in all kinds of weather.” 
Both my parents came from Ireland. Father was from Ardmore, County Galway, and mother from Kilnamartyra, a little town in the hills of County Cork. Dad spoke a little Gaelic. Ardmore is the center of the traditional Irish language.”
I started at Quigley North. Our first year was in the main building. My sophomore year was in an abandoned public school across the street, because Quigley had too many students! I went to Quigley South for third and fourth years.

Priesthood: He calls it “an innate vocation.” “I was saying Mass in Latin in my bedroom as a second-grader, before I was old enough to be an altar server. My parents were religious. I used to go to church with Mom and I was attracted to it. We had good priests at Sacred Heart as well.

His outreach: “I’m in and about the school to say hello to kids each day, so they know what a priest is. I walked into the kindergarten today and a kid came up and said, ‘You aren’t allowed to talk right now because there’s a test going on!’ ‘Thank you for the warning.’ I think they have a pretty good rapport when a 5-year-old can say that to the pastor.”

Eye for bargains: His first week at St. Louis de Montfort, a donation of $57,000 in furniture was delivered. “Someone from my former parish of St. Emily’s had a used furniture warehouse. He donated stuff we couldn’t have afforded. We keep our ears open. The Tobin School in Burbank was being torn down -- we got a bunch of smaller kids’ desks. We got about 150 Junior High desks for a minimal sum, from a public school in Oak Lawn, to replace ours that had seen their day. 
My sister’s the same way. I guess we learned at home not to waste anything – and figure how to improve things in a systematic, economical way.”

Prayer: He was in a head-on car crash three years ago this month and came away with  broken bones in his ankle and a broken wrist. He knows that was Providence watching over him. His prayer time is morning and evening, “before and after everything else goes on -- when the phone and doorbell aren’t ringing.”

Travel bug: He’s been all over the world. Of his many journeys, “One of my most memorable was eight or nine years ago going to Egypt, went down the Nile -- being in Ephesus, walking the same pavement Paul walked on.” He has sat in the same amphitheater Paul preached in. “Jerusalem was also memorable -- a day trip off the boat.”

Leisure: He likes reading and playing bridge. I enjoyed “At Home” by Bill Bryson – the history of the house -- how various rooms developed. I like biography. I’ve read Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” about an American track star in the 1936 Olympics who was shot down in World War II and becomes a Japanese prisoner of war. Fascinating.” He’s currently reading Graham Moore’s mystery, “The Sherlockian.”

Looking back: His 40th anniversary of ordination is this May. “Even after 40 years I enjoy being a priest and ministering to people – every day is different which is kind of neat. No day has been repeated in my 40 years.” 
His gratitude fits his favorite Scripture verse: “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.”