Sunday, January 22, 2017
As many of you know, Old St. Patrick’s participated in a program called “The Parish Catalyst” a few years ago and we were asked to make a two year commitment to working with ten other Catholic churches from around the United States whose communities are characteristically vibrant and alive for the Gospel. Honored by the invitation to participate, I was grateful to hear of the many exciting ways in which other churches around the country are creatively expressing their missions. The person who gathered us together was a gentleman by the name of Bill Simon, who recently just authored a book called: Great Catholic Parishes (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame Indiana). During one of our sessions, the topic we were asked to consider was in the area of Leadership Development. Defined in many ways, my basic understanding of leadership development (whether it’s correct or not, I’m not sure) has to do with “who” and “what” is coming after us. Quite simply, who will carry on the work of the church when our journey is completed? Who are we “grooming” to take our place in all the facets of church life, from the pews to the presider chairs? What, in our mission, needs to gradually die and what is something that needs to begin? Those are big questions and quite frankly, I find them, at times, to be intimidating.
Think about it in terms of today’s gospel text from Matthew. What IF those first disciples had all said “No, not interested! Thanks anyway, Jesus!”? Walking away from something, especially when fishing was the only way to pay the bills, had to have caused some serious anxiety and a lot of second guessing. Change is not always a fun adventure. Letting go of the past; saying farewell to our youth; surrendering our independence; stepping into a future of unknowns, we all go through it…some more gracefully than others as we know. So what do we need? Confidence, Hope, Renewal, Integrity, Support, Trust: Christ. Putting Christ at the center of it all will help guide our way into the next chapters of life.
Speaking of leadership development, I stand utterly grateful to one guy in particular whose friendship and wisdom helped me to find the confidence I needed to say ‘yes’ almost 10 years ago to his invitation of being pastor of this great church: Fr. Jack Wall. Coming to Old St. Pat’s in 1983 under some very lean and difficult circumstances (no people, no money, no mission), Jack spent the next 24 years helping to shape and rebuild the vibrant community we enjoy today. Surrounded by many wonderful people whose only desire was to keep building a strong, life-giving expression of the Catholic church here at Adams & Desplaines and beyond, I join with you today in giving thanks once again to all of those who created a really strong foundation on which we stand today in 2017.
This past Wednesday January 18, Fr. Jack Wall celebrated his 75th Birthday! I can only hope and pray that I have the same energy and spirit he has when I reach that age. Jack is the energizer bunny of the Catholic priesthood today. Leading with great creativity the Catholic Extension Society, whose primary outreach is to the church in rural America, I have never seen him more pumped up and excited about all the terrific ways in which the church is being lived out in so many of the remote areas of the USA. His ability to foster and create a vibrancy for the work of church is, and has been, a real gift to me personally. I was both honored and hesitant when he pitched the question of succeeding him as pastor of Old St. Pat’s several years ago. I didn’t think I was capable enough of following his great leadership. I discovered that following great leaders is not about replicating or maintaining their work, but rather learning from their example and having the confidence, hope, renewal, integrity, support, and trust to do what God is asking of us in the present moment.
At this momentous time in his journey, I join all of you in wishing Jack the happiest of birthdays and praying that God will continue to guide him in his great work at Extension and as pastor to me and to all of us.
Father Tom Hurley