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Learn what 'pumps' his spirit

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, October 23, 2011

Father Stanley Rataj, pastor, Our Lady of the Snows Parish, 4810 S. Leamington, on Oct. 17. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Stanley Rataj (pronounced Ra-tai), former pastor of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Parish. Became pastor of Our Lady of the Snows near Midway Airport last year. He can celebrate Mass in Spanish, Polish and English. Was ordained at Mundelein in 1979.

Youth: “I was born in Hoboken, N.J., birthplace of Frank Sinatra. We moved to Chicago when I was 5 and I grew up in what’s now Pilsen, in St. Roman Parish. 
“As kids we made spending money collecting bottles and cashing them in. The guy would say, ‘You didn’t buy that Coke here!’ and we’d say, ‘Yeah we did!’”

He has two sisters. A younger brother is deceased. “Dad worked at Western Electric’s old Hawthorne plant here for over 30 years.”

On call: “We lived half a block from church. As an altar server I was called for funerals, weddings, everything. 
“The nuns had a Mass each morning at 5 a.m. and I think I was the only one who served that one. They were Sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis. My aunt was in their community.

“If I acted up in school one of the nuns called my aunt, she’d call Grandma, and Grandma would tell Pa, so by the time I got home …. I never got away with anything.”

Career choice: “I credit Father Chester Sulek and Father Frank Ryzner for my vocation. They were great priests at St. Roman’s and kept after me to go to Quigley South. I wanted to go to St. Rita and play football. Rita had the best high school team around. 

“I took the exam to get them off my back, and came in third out of about 170 kids. Quigley turned out to be a great school and 12 years later, Cardinal Cody had his hands on my head, ordaining me a priest. I’ve loved it from day one.“

Ever a pilgrim: “While I was an associate at St. Nick’s 25 years ago, we started visiting churches on Holy Thursday.

“We’d get one or two buses going each year. I think we visited nearly every church in the archdiocese. When we went to the Mundelein area we wouldn’t get back until 1:30 in the morning. Everybody enjoyed it.

“I’ll start the tradition here next Holy Thursday visiting surrounding parishes to begin with.

“It’s a family tradition we had as children with our grandma. Of course in those days you could hit nine churches in the neighborhood on foot.”

He has led pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Medjugorje and Rome.

“Wonderful times. In Rome the most memorable day was getting permission to celebrate Mass, just our group, at the tomb of St. Peter. Right after that we had an audience with Pope John Paul II. So within a couple hours we experienced the whole history of the papacy. Pretty incredible.”

Fuel for the soul: “Part of what fuels me spiritually is I teach religion in our school. I’ve done this every year wherever I lived since ordination. I try to see every grade twice a month, so that’s edifying for me. The kids get to know who I am and I know who they are.

“The school and I are a team with the parents to see that our faith stays alive. We’re doing a pretty good job of it here.”

Spiritual focus: “I pray the Hours every day as we’re supposed to do and get a great deal of benefit from that. The Eucharist is a given. I try to pray at least one rosary every day. The way things go in my life is reflective of how my prayer life is at that moment.

“The last few years I’ve gone to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky for a week with the monks. I find their silence and their pace of prayer, getting up at 3 a.m., an easy rhythm to get into and enjoy it very much. 
“We also have ongoing Bible study every Thursday night with a group of parishioners here at Our Lady of the Snows.”

Leisure: “Part of my 2010 sabbatical was a 30-day silent retreat with the Jesuits.” One result of that was living healthier.

“Since then I’ve lost nearly 100 pounds. Part is watching what I eat and a big part has been a regular program of exercise. I put it in my calendar. It’s as important as a parish council meeting. 
“My excuse used to be ‘I don’t have time.’ My doctor said, ‘Unless you make time you’ll be seeing me more and more.’

“Now I see a trainer a couple times a week. Exercise makes such a difference — gives you more energy. I’m off the blood pressure pills. I like to golf, bowl, and am playing racquetball again after 20 years. 
“I’m proud of it. I’m not a spring chicken. If I’m going to be serving people into retirement I’d better make sure I’m able to do it.

“This is my first assignment being at a place alone. I don’t have a cook. I do my own shopping and eat healthy. Lots of grilled salmon and chicken.”

Reading: “Read Matthew Kelly’s ‘Rediscovering Catholicism’ which he passed out to all of us at the priests’ convocation. I’m a big fan of the Robert Ludlum novels. I’ve read all of them.”

Favorite saint: “Probably St. Padre Pio. When we were in Italy we got to celebrate Mass at his tomb right around the time of his canonization.

“At a recent Mass for kids here, I told them how I had a couple of serious operations and the doctors let me smuggle in a little statue of Padre Pio (all wrapped up in a corner). One of our school kids said he was having surgery in a couple weeks, could he borrow the statue. I said, ‘Thank you for paying attention, and sure you can.’ 

“We’re thinking of making it a floating statue for anyone in the parish with an illness!”