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He cares for a parish steeped in history but ever new

By Dolores Madlener | Staff Writer
Sunday, April 14, 2013

Father Jeremiah Boland, administrator of Holy Family Parish, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, greets worshippers in December 2007, after the 150th anniversary Mass of its founding. (Karen Callaway / Catholic New World)

He is: Father Jeremiah Boland, administrator of Holy Family Parish, home to the second oldest church in the archdiocese. He is the archbishop’s delegate to extern and international priests, former chair of the Association of Chicago Priests and former chair of the Presbyteral Council. He also served on the Cardinal’s Board of Consultors. Ordained at Mundelein in 1981.

Growing up: “I hail from St. Gall’s Parish at 55th and Kedzie, went to St. Laurence High School, then Niles College Seminary. I have four brothers. Brother Mike is Msgr. Mike, head of Catholic Charities. Brothers Tim, Rich and Joe are married with children. We’ve been very lucky they’re all in the Chicagoland area. Mother is a resident at Holy Family Villa in Palos Park. She came from a family of five girls and raised five boys. Dad was a plant manager for Purex in East Chicago, Ind. He was from Visitation Parish, and mother from St. Augustine’s. 
Boland’s an Irish name. All four grandparents were Irish-born. My father’s parents were from Dingle, County Kerry and my mother’s were from County Claire. We still have many relatives over there and connect with them as well. I had the wedding of my third cousin last October in Kerry.”

Parish life: “The parish was the center of our lives. We walked to church and school. I was an altar server. When we lived there it was primarily an Eastern European parish. It gradually became a very large Hispanic parish. The Second Vatican Council happened when I was in grammar school. Our pastor and priests were energetic in implementing the reforms.

“We were part of a progressive, forward-looking parish that influenced all of us. St. Galls, built in the late 50s, was built anticipating the liturgical reforms. The altar was not against the back wall and it’s not in a cruciform shape.

Priesthood: “We had a youth group. The priests were involved in issues facing the neighborhood, and made a connection between faith and the world we were living in. I also have a cousin, Father Pat Lyons, pastor of Our Lady of Knock, another great influence.

“Being administrator at historic Holy Family I now know all about floods, pipes and electrical systems. I’ve had the opportunity to be at wonderful parishes, but Holy Family is unique because of its history and diversity.

“There’s such resilience. It was on the brink of collapse so many times and has come back to life over and over again. I tell parishioners: ‘We’re one of the oldest churches and one of the youngest parishes’ because of the new development in the area. There’s a friendliness about the community that’s wonderful. On Sundays there’s a feeling of ‘we’re all back together again.’ Because of the size, I’m able to know just about everybody by their first name.

“Another great thing about this place is its connection with St. Ignatius College Prep. We have  many weddings and a number are Ignatius graduates. It’s touching to hear a couple say, ‘This is the church I really wanted to get married in.’ You don’t often hear kids bonding that way with a building. It says a lot about the formation they receive. I’ve developed an appreciation for the Jesuits and the contribution they make to education here in the city.”

Extern and international priests: “For years I’d been executive secretary of the Priests Placement Board. When I came back from sabbatical in 2001, the cardinal was concerned about the needs of 200-some priests from other dioceses and religious orders serving our parishes. My task was to try and organize a more effective outreach to these priests — their immigration and inculturation needs — and connect them in communities that would benefit from their background. I marvel at the life experience they bring to the archdiocese. Some have survived genocide, famine or civil wars — and their own journey of faith, many coming from mission dioceses. If it wasn’t for the externs I can’t imagine how we would meet the ethnic needs of the archdiocese.”

Leisure: “One of the things about being at Holy Family, I’ve re-discovered how great Chicago is – the Lake Front, the museums. I like to get lost in the city on my days off, or drop in on my mother and other relatives. I go to Ireland every couple years and did my sabbatical in Rome.

“I just finished reading ‘A People’s History,’ by Howard Zinn. He’s taken first-person accounts of U.S. history from people who lived it — the story of slavery, or the Great Depression, the whole Native American reality. I like biographies and history most.”

“The Comiskey family once worshipped at Holy Family. Well this priest is a South Side Cub fan, despite ‘years of therapy.’ I’m the only one of the Bolands who went to the other side. I’m also a ‘Downton Abbey’ fan on PBS. That’s one I try not to miss. I’m an amateur photographer and take pictures when I travel. My cooking is relegated to ‘2 minutes on high.’ Thank God for the microwave.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “‘Serve the Lord with gladness,’ from Psalm 100. Through all our troubles, we’ve got the Good News to share! It’s stayed with me since my ordination.”