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'Juggling' to keep prayer life No. 1

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, August 12, 2012

ather Paul Wachdorf is pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish, 5545 N. Paulina St. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World_

He is: Father Paul Wachdorf, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish on the North Side. Spent 26 years as spiritual life and prayer formation director at Mundelein Seminary. Ordained in 1975.

Youth: “I was born and raised in St. Justin Martyr Parish on the South Side, then attended Quigley South, Niles, and Mundelein Seminary. I am what you call a ‘lifer.’ I have one younger sister, a certified nurse midwife in Minneapolis. We joke we take care of people from womb-to-tomb.

“My father worked for the Southtown Economist selling display advertising and also had his own dance band, The Diplomats. For most of his life they played on weekends for weddings, anniversaries and special occasions. He was a clarinet and saxophone player. Before that he played in the U.S. Army Band. The best I can do today is play the ukulele — self-taught. Mom was a homemaker and an excellent cook — especially her chop suey and her meatloaf.”

Prayer life: After his first assignment at St. John Fisher Parish he went to Creighton University in Omaha for four summers to get his master’s degree in Christian spirituality. “It gave me a chance to deepen my own prayer life and then to teach seminarians not only how to pray,  but the value of prayer in their lives. I take time in the morning to do some Ignatian consciousness examen, or Scripture prayer, before preaching it in daily Mass. I do some centering prayer every evening. I make time for prayer, it’s a priority.”

Retreat spots: “I’ve done a number of 8-day Ignatian retreats and one 30-day directed retreat. I’ve gone to Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Mass., Jesuit Spiritual Center in Milford, Ohio, and lately I’ve been doing hermitage retreats at Christ in the Wilderness in Stockton, Ill. Self-directed, but there’s a director if you would like. These centers, including our own Stritch Retreat House, are open to laity as well as priests.”

Year of the Mass: He is implementing a program to deepen parishioners’ appreciation and understanding of the Eucharist and why they should come to Mass. “We should go to give our prayers, worship and thanksgiving to God, for all the blessings in our lives, and to spend time with someone we love and who loves us. It’s also valid to say we go to ‘receive’ the Eucharist, to strengthen us for our journey and receive support of the people worshiping with us. We aren’t doing this alone, but as a family of faith.”

Hobby with gravitas: “I like to juggle. Even when I was young I was curious about juggling and wanted to learn. In my early 30s, I found a book, ‘Juggling for the Complete Klutz.’ It came with three juggling bags. I bought it, read it and taught myself. Then I applied it to other things.

“So I have a wedding homily in which I juggle for the couple, and compare the four steps for learning how to juggle with the four things for a happy marriage. For instance, they have to get used to picking up the pieces and starting over again. Consistency is important in juggling as well as in married life. It has to become second nature. In juggling and marriage, be faithful to the process, don’t abandon it because you’re not getting it right away.

“Then I wrote ‘How to Juggle, How to Pray,’ for ‘Praying Magazine,’ applying the same steps to achieving more effective prayer.”
Leisure: “I was an avid downhill skier for 25 years until I had two knee surgeries. Now on my day off I go to my small mobile home on Lake Zurich. Some days I lunch with friends or walk around the lake, take a bike ride, go to the library, or see a movie to relax.”

Reading: “First, it’s books on prayer and spirituality, so I’m always reading at least one book in that area. 
“And I like murder mysteries — all of Agatha Christie, all of Sherlock Holmes. I’m reading James Patterson, who’s written more best-sellers than any other author.

“Then there’s books like the Harry Potter series, the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy or C. S. Lewis’s ‘Narnia Chronicles.’”

Favorite Scripture verse: “It’s Ephesians 3:20-21: the theme of my first Mass: ‘Glory be to God whose power working within us can do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine.’

“What I do is more than just me, but God working through me. I’ve seen things happen I can’t account for based on me, but God working through me to touch a person’s life in some way. It’s been central.”

Favorite saint: “St. Ignatius of Loyola is my favorite saint, since most of my training was by Jesuits at Loyola, Creighton and Mundelein.

“I’m a diocesan priest but I’ve been trained in Jesuit spirituality and I like his idea of finding and responding to God in all things, and doing all for the greater honor and glory of God.”