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Working in the rectory as a kid planted a seed

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father John Dearhammer, pastor of Church of the Holy Spirit, in Schaumburg, stands at the altar facing the sanctuary. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father John Dearhammer, pastor at Church of the Holy Spirit in Schaumburg, former pastor of St. Gall Parish on the South Side. Ordained in 1991.

Family: Grew up in St. Pascal Parish on the North Side. “My mom sang in our choir for Cardinal George’s 25th jubilee Mass as a priest. Dad was a tool-and-die maker. He had his own small company at Grand and Cicero. Guys in my dad’s era could fix anything. I have no ability like that -- plumbing, electrical, cars, all that stuff. My younger sister lives in Thailand with her husband and son. She works for a company that teaches people how to avoid pandemics like bird flu.

“When we got older, Mom worked as a travel agent. She’s a people person and makes reservations for conventions in Chicago.”

Vocation: “While attending St. Patrick High School I worked at St. Pascal Rectory and got to see what the priests did day in and day out and to know them pretty well. Father Frank Ciezadlo, Father Jim Mitchell, Father Dan Fallon and others -- really wonderful people -- who got me thinking about priesthood.” French Christian Brothers taught at the high school. “Their vocation director, Father Joe Sampson, visited me every year. In my junior year I told him I was thinking of diocesan priesthood. So he got me in touch with Father John Cusick at Niles College, and the rest is history.  (My other dream was to be second baseman for the White Sox.)”

In the trenches: He learned Spanish while a seminarian. “The rector asked me to teach one of the sisters English. Well, she didn’t learn English but I learned Spanish. I’m a better student than teacher.” Later he lived with a Mexican family on the South Side to become fluent.  His first parish, St. Maurice, was a good test. “I’d love to go back and apologize to them for six years of homilies. When you’re starting out you don’t have much practice and I was preaching in English and Spanish, so it was difficult to keep it short. The pastor didn’t speak much Spanish and I became the ‘Spanish pastor.’ I was counseling, doing marriage prep and hearing confessions. I muddled through it.” 

In 1999 he became pastor of St. Gall, then the fourth largest Latino parish in the archdiocese. “It was a great place — a very important ministry in a kind of violent neighborhood — a lot of gangs. It’s a very visible church and kind of a flagship for Latino ministry for that area. Alongside the 5 percent Anglos who loved the parish and were dedicated to its mission we banded together in bi-cultural ministry.” He served there 10 years.

“Schaumburg is very different from the South Side of Chicago. This is my first place without a school. Out here it’s important but tough work to reach the young people. Our founding pastor, Father George Kane, helps out during the week. He’s very talented and a wonderful person to talk with.”

Leisure: “I cook for myself. I took a class at Harper College last year with 10 other students. It gave me the confidence to read a recipe and do it. As a kid I took up the mandolin and now I’m getting back into it — trouble is southern string music is really, really fast.

“I’m a cribbage player as well. I love it. I found a few parishioners who play.

“I’m reading “The Geography of Time,” by Robert Levine. For pleasure I like spy novels by Vince Flynn or Harlan Coben. I’ve played golf with a couple of classmates for more than 20 years, and we solve the world’s problems. I sometimes see a movie, or veg-out at my mom’s house.”

Playing favorites: “St. Peter. He’s so incredibly human. He’s a great example for everybody. Doubts and questions are OK, no problem, but do your best to work those out and to be as faith-filled as you can be. Favorite Scripture passages are the infancy narratives, Luke or Matthew. When Christmas comes around I like the readings because there’s so much depth. The stories of Jesus birth are important to me ever since I read the book ‘The Birth of the Messiah,’ by Raymond Brown.”

On life’s lessons: “I had a dog for one week back in December. I think I slept about 14 hours that week. The dog would wake up at 2 a.m. and say, ‘Hey, let’s play!’ I asked five people how to get through it and I got six opinions. It was a year-and-a-half year old Lab. Someone said Labs are puppies for about 5 years. I had to take him back and still miss him. I said to the people at Pet Smart: ‘It’s not you – it’s me!’ Maybe I’m a fish person.”