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He says 'It's always a great day for running'

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, April 8, 2012

Father Dennis Ziomek, pastor of St. Barbara Parish, 2859 S. Throop St., shows the congregation a vestment he was given by the Daughters of Isabella for the celebration of the parish's 100th anniversary on Oct. 24, 2010. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Dennis (“Zi”) Ziomek. He became pastor of St. Barbara Parish in Bridgeport just in time to celebrate its centennial last year. He was a faculty member at Quigley South and Archbishop Quigley High School Seminaries for 23 years. He was ordained by Cardinal Cody in 1978 and is a member of the Presbyteral Council, Coordinating Board of the Association of Chicago Priests, and Technology Committee of the Archdiocese.  He has served at St. Gall, St. Gerald in Oak Lawn, Our Lady of the Snows, and currently St. Barbara in Bridgeport.

Growing up: “I had two younger sisters, Roxie and Jackie. Jackie died on All Saints Day 2006. It’s been sad but also special to celebrate the funeral Masses for my parents and my sister, and for other uncles and aunts. 
“Dad described himself as a ‘pencil pusher’. A humble man – he was an accountant at USI Clearing from the time he got home from WWII until he retired. My mother, who was a very religious woman and very involved in parish life, would gather us kids before bedtime, and we’d kneel down and pray before the statues of Jesus and Mary in our living room. Dad would say, ‘I can pray from the kitchen chair.’

“I went to kindergarten at St. Barbara, where I am now pastor, and spent my early years just two blocks away. In Bridgeport, my parish was Immaculate Conception on 31st Street (now the Monastery of the Holy Cross). We’d go to the old Mark White Park and swim at 12th Street Beach. We later moved to St. Symphorosa, near Midway Airport, where I was confirmed.”

Vocation: “My vocation started at home, with the support and prayers of my family. I knew good priests at my parish and in the seminary who helped me aspire to priesthood. My busia sent up prayers to heaven for me. She’d say, ‘Someday you be good priest!’ As I went through Quigley South and Niles College, I thought about other vocations, but there was always that urge towards priesthood.” He got his nickname “Zi” from a Latin teacher at Quigley South who couldn’t pronounce his Polish name.

After his first assignment at St. Gall, he was teacher, coach, and spiritual director at Quigley South and, after it closed, at Archbishop Quigley until 2007, teaching alongside some of his former professors. “It was a humbling experience.” While teaching a variety of subjects, he finally settled into teaching computer science. In 2009, he was named an Archbishop James E. Quigley Distinguished Alumni.

Running the good race: He ran track both in high school and at Loyola University. His cross-country and track runners at Quigley still recall his favorite slogan, “It’s always a great day for running.”
“Now that I’m older, I continue to run 4 to 6 miles several times a week.” In the Chicago Marathon, his personal best was 3 hours and 36 minutes. “I was in my 30s!” He now limits himself to the half-marathon. Last fall, he ran a 10 mile race as a fundraiser to reduce St. Barbara’s Debt.

Spirituality: “I enjoy celebrating Mass, leading people in prayer and preaching, but to do that I have to be a person of personal prayer. Every summer I make a silent directed retreat at the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House and try to make the vicariate preached-retreat. When I ski with priest friends in Colorado, we always begin the day by praying the Liturgy of the Hours -- a great way to bless the day.

“I went to Poland last May as a guest of my associate, Father Andrzej Beltowski. I concelebrated Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow, at the Basilica of Divine Mercy, and at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa at Jasna Gora.”

Leisure: “Most recently, I re-read Father Dominic Grassi’s ‘Still Called By Name, Why I Love Being a Priest.’ I was gifted recently with ‘Praying the Roman Missal,’ by Father Robert Tuzik.”  He reads an array of periodicals, including The Priest, National Catholic Reporter, Runner’s World, and PC World.  He’s into technology big time and is webmaster for his parish website (www.StBarbaraChicago.org). “Besides having taught computers, they’ve been a hobby of mine.

“I like racquetball, downhill skiing, golf, fishing, and playing basketball and volleyball on Pray and Play Teen Nights.  I grew up helping my dad work on the family car in the garage.  He helped me fix my first car, a stick-shift 3-speed on-the-column 1970 red Ford Maverick.  We even pulled and replaced the engine and the clutch.  So to this day, I do my own car maintenance, like changing oil and replacing brakes.”

Scripture: “I’m a big fan of Psalm 23: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’ I can be a worry wart.  It reminds me of the Lord’s abiding presence in my life and to trust in him.”