Perhaps some background information will be helpful to begin to give you a sense of who I am and where I am coming from. I was raised on the far southwest side of Chicago in Christ the King Parish along with my four brothers and five sisters. I attended Quigley South high school, then the college seminary, and on to the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein. Ordained in 1979, I have served as an Associate Pastor at Holy Name Cathedral, St. Odilo in Berwyn, Divine Infant in Westchester and St. Francis Xavier in LaGrange. Then I was pastor of St. Mary of Celle in Berwyn, served for six months as Administrator at St. Bruno parish in the city and for the last twelve years as pastor of St. Josapahat on Southport, just south of Fullerton.
All of the parishes I have ministered in since ordination have had a parish school. And while at St. Jospahat’s, I led the fund-raising and construction efforts for a new school building to accommodate the increased enrollment. The North Side Catholic Academy will be a new approach to Catholic education for me, and one to which I look forward to understanding and participating in.
Back in December when the Priest Placement Board sent out the initial list of parishes looking for a pastor, of the twenty-two parishes on the list, St. Gertrude was my first choice. And it remained so throughout the process. As I’ve tried to explore why this is, I am struck by a few things: I find diversity more interesting and more engaging than homogeneity. This is true not only in ministry and geography, but I think it is also true in most work places and in politics and governance. Secondly, while I appreciate the gifts of a variety of chronologic ages, I am also aware that a healthy school indicates there is a strong presence of families with children present – and that can only mean new life is a given. Third, insofar as I am aware of the recent history of St. Gertrude Parish, it seems to be on the progressive side of things both theologically and politically. In this I am grateful to my mother who taught all of her children that it was, “okay to be conservative when you are old, but if you are when you are young that’s just a shame because you should be exploring all life has to offer.” I suppose a different way of saying this is that the breath of fresh air that Pope Saint John XXIII brought to the Catholic Church when he called the Second Vatican Council is probably only now being more fully appreciated in the ministry of Pope Francis. We are not meant to be historic relics, but people living in and engaging the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world today.
Transitions and changes are difficult for everyone involved. Although I had been forthright with St. Josapahat parishioners for at least the last eighteen months that this was going to be ‘change-time’ – I was a bit taken aback at Christmas when so many people began to say, “good-bye.”. I had to keep telling them and myself we still had six months together and I didn’t think it was a good idea to start “the wake” just yet!
On the other side of transition, when I was meeting with the pastoral Staff of St. Gertrude, towards the end of our time together I asked what I thought was an innocent question that would give me an idea of any changes that would require my immediate attention when I asked, “Are you all planning on returning?” As soon as I saw the looks on their faces I knew that there was a whole other meaning to the question! After a short pause, one of the group said, “Well, we thought we were!” We ended up laughing about it, but it was also an important learning moment for me in this process. We don’t know each other yet, and we can easily misunderstand each other. I hope we can be tolerant and forthcoming so those misunderstandings can be quickly dealt with and we can appreciate our common mission.
Finally, a word about “agendas”. As far as I know I don’t have one coming in. With one exception. The Archdiocesan Renew My Church process will involve every parish and institution in the entire Archdiocese. And it is all about change. But perhaps more importantly, it is all about finding ways to fulfill the Mission of Jesus in our own time and place. I am in complete agreement with Cardinal Cupich that this is a process that has to happen to make us stronger and to move forward as a church. But it is also somewhat frightening since the future is always unknown and we all get comfortable in what we know and are used to. My suspicion is that because St. Gertrude is a strong parish and part of a strong school, our future is bright. But we all must be willing to engage in this process and work with the other parishes in our “grouping” to ensure what we value most will be able to passed on to future generations. Or, at the risk of using a double negative, no one gets to decide they are not going to be involved in this process.
I look forward to beginning to get to know you now that I have moved in.
Fr. Rich Prendergast