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God brought good out of a tragic happening

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, January 1, 2012

Father Richard Kozak, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Homewood, stands at door of church on Dec. 15. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Richard J. Kozak, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Homewood since 2002. Served there previously as associate for four years.

Youth: “I grew up on the near North Side around Humboldt Park — Holy Rosary on North Western Avenue. My parents were married there, I was baptized there, that was where I made all my sacraments and said my first Mass as a priest. I went from Holy Rosary through five years at Quigley and then to Mundelein for seven.”

Family life: “My dad was Polish, my mom Italian. I’m an only child, but I have several cousins that are almost like siblings. They lived in Skokie and Wilmette. With the other kids on the block I played ball and hung out in Humboldt Park and swam in the park pool. Dad worked at the original Sears & Roebuck on Homan and Arthington. Then he went into the service. When he came out, Mr. Roebuck held his job for him. He worked there all his life until he retired.”

Vatican I-II era: “Our class had a foot in each ocean. We studied Latin as a language for about six years and other classes were often in Latin. When I had to take my oral exam for my bachelor’s degree in theology it was all in Latin with four priests examining us. About 1964 the readings started to become English. It started to filter down to us in the mid-60s, and the altar was turned around. When I was ordained the Eucharistic Prayer was still in Latin. I’m glad I had the opportunity to be trained in the old and new ways. I always say, next to Pentecost, Vatican II is the most wonderful thing that’s happened in the Catholic Church.

It shook me up when so many priests left. But I was always pretty sure God was calling me. And here we are 45 years later.”

An influence: “I had a great uncle who became a Scalabrini lay brother, Brother Francis Roti. He had been married, been president of a bank, had six kids. There was a run on the bank, his wife left him and he raised the kids himself. He worked for years until he paid back every depositor, and then when his youngest turned 18, he entered the Scalabrinis. He was kind and gentle and visited people in prisons, he was a big influence on me.”

Music as fuel: “I combine my yearly retreat and a Door County vacation. There’s a house of prayer I can go to. It’s a time to pray and be wowed by nature. Music has always been a deep source of spirituality for me. 
“There are concerts at the Peninsula Music Festival. I don’t play an instrument, but an aunt got me into classical music and took me to see my first opera when I was 13. She got me my first FM radio. It’s a passion that’s continued during my priesthood. I still go to the opera and symphony.” 

School of life: “Celebrating the Eucharist is the chief element of my spirituality, and being with people in the good times and bad. So often I’m encouraged and uplifted by their goodness, their faith, in this parish and in other places. Sometimes you have to feed off of that. I say people also minister to me.”

Leisure: “I dabble in photography and I’ll put things into the bulletin. I’m pretty computer literate and like to do desktop publishing, even the financial stuff. I use Microsoft Excel. It comes easily to me.”

New Year’s resolutions? “They can have a good influence. We know from experience we don’t always keep them, but at least there’s that first step toward whatever the improvement is going to be. I think they’re important.”

Favorite Scripture: “From St. Paul to the Romans: ‘For those who love God all things work together unto good.’ I’ve seen in my life that God can bring good out of evil. I lost an eye a month before I was ordained in a sporting accident, and I’m convinced it deepened my spiritual vision of the Lord even though I lost physical vision. It happened on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, 1967. I look back on my life and say, ‘Well Lord, I guess you had a plan for me.’”

Favorite saint: “St. Joseph, of course!”