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Walking El Camino for two very good reasons

By Dolores Madlener | Staff writer
Sunday, September 23, 2012

Carrying his backpack, St. Teresa of Avila pastor Father Frank Latzko greets parishioners as he is about to embark on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or the Way of St. James, a 500 mile pilgrimage across the north of Spain ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. He is making the pilgrimage to raise funds to build wells for a poor community in Haiti. (Brian J. Morowczynski / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Frank Latzko, former pastor of St. Eulalia Parish, Maywood. Pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish on the North Side since 2009. Ordained in 1984.

Youth: “I grew up and went to public schools in DesPlaines. Our parish was St. Emily in Mt. Prospect. I was raised in a simple and solidly Catholic faith, but not overtly Catholic. The family went to Mass every week, but didn’t talk about it. My sister is three years older. For 45 years Dad was an electrical engineer in Chicago.  Mother worked for Central Telephone Company, which became Sprint. Back then it was the only other phone company besides Bell.

“I studied to be a teacher at National College of Education in Evanston.” [He finished his teaching degree as a priest and taught at Archbishop Quigley Seminary from 1991-97].  “In college I left the church and began exploring different religions. Then I transferred to DePaul University and went into the philosophy and religious studies department. The faculty there opened up my understanding of Catholicism and Jesus. While re-exploring my faith at DePaul, I started going back to church. I also talked with a couple priests in my parish and started to consider priesthood. I went up to Mundelein and talked with the rector, Father James Keleher, who was very instrumental in my going to the seminary.”

Spiritual life: “I pray for an hour every morning at 5:30 -- the liturgy of the hours, Lexio Divina and just pray with the Scriptures. I need a discipline of prayer to anchor my priesthood. It’s made all the difference in the world. I pray while jogging, too. I make two retreats a year, either with the Trappists at New Melleray or at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass. I’m also a Third Order Franciscan. I try to live a Franciscan life as best I can. St. Francis, is one of my favorite saints.”

Leisure: “I’m just finishing Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” the trilogy about a journey of risk-taking. I also just read a new biography: ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,’ by Eric Metaxas. It’s wonderful. I love reading Merton, Father Richard Rohr and Teresa of Avila, too – three great companions. I spend my day off with friends, or with my dad who’s in Friendship Village in Schaumburg.”

Upcoming pilgrimage: He’s about to begin a six-month sabbatical doing the historic 500-mile walk in Spain, across the Pyrenees, known as “El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.” It is the ancient road to the Shrine of St. James. “There’s that beautiful movie with Martin Sheen called ‘The Way,’ but that’s not what got me on El Camino. My inspiration came a number of years ago when I read Servite Sister Joyce Rupp’s experience, ‘Walking in a Relaxed Manner.’ That’s what really got me.

“I’m doing it in thanksgiving for my priesthood and to raise $20,000 to build wells that will bring clean, accessible water to a village in Haiti, called Palmary, and the parish of St. Rose of Lima.” It is part of an ongoing outreach, including mission trips, between his parish of St. Teresa and Palmary. “The people at our mission, in the center of Haiti, far from Port au Prince, receive water brought in by trucks or retrieved on foot, 5 miles away. But under the ground is life -- is water. I hope to raise enough money to help build several wells.”

Training: “I’ve been walking around the city of Chicago and the prairie trails in the western suburbs since May, with my 15-20-pound backpack. I try to do 12 miles each day, two or three times a week. I’ve lost 12 pounds. My hope is to do 12-15 miles a day in Spain. I’m excited and a little apprehensive, being alone, the language, and a new culture. I’ll connect with my parishioners and others through a blog or on Face Book. I want everyone to ‘walk with me.’

“People can donate for these wells very easily by either calling the rectory at (773) 528-6650 or by just going on line to www.st-teresa.net.

“I’m giving El Camino two months.” He departs Sept. 28 and begins the Camino Oct. 1.  “Hopefully I’ll get to see the shrine of St. Teresa in Avila, too, while I’m in Spain. I have to be back for a retreat in Spencer on Dec. 3. Then I’ll be on a sabbatical program in Rome for two months in the winter.” He returns to St. Teresa of Avila Parish on April 1.