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January 16, 2011

Living the parable of the vineyard workers

By Dolores Madlener

STAFF WRITER

Interviewee

Father Thomas Mescall, administrator of St. Adrian Parish, stands near the church's 56-year -old statue of Our Lady of Fatima, recently renovated and re-dedicated by Cardinal George. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World

He is: Father Thomas Mescall, administrator of St. Adrian Parish, 7000 S. Washtenaw, former associate pastor of St. Terrence in Alsip. Attended Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis. Ordained in 2004 at Mundelein Seminary, at age 56, the oldest in his class. Mescall practiced law in Albuquerque, N.M., from 1973 to 2000, serving 17 years as a judge on the municipal, district and probate courts.

Youth: “I grew up across the street from St. Leo’s rectory on the South Side. Went to St. Leo Grade School and Leo High School. Dad was an Irish cop in Chicago and his father was a cop — killed in the line of duty. My mother worked as head cashier at High-Low about 35 years and loved every minute of it.”

Career: “It was 1965. My cousin, a Dominican priest in New Mexico, suggested I attend the [Catholic] University of Albuquerque.” He did, and graduated with a bachelor’s with a minor in education. “I explored the possibility of a religious vocation, but those doors didn’t seem to open for me at the time.”

Back in Chicago, he started teaching in a Chicago public school. “In the meantime I applied to John Marshall Law School and was admitted.” He taught during the day, and went to law school at night. He married in 1970 at 22. It ended in divorce in 1981. “Divorce was the most traumatic experience of my life.” Their two children are lawyers today. (His marriage was declared null by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.)

Priesthood: “I attribute the call to priesthood to developing the habit of daily Mass and Communion about 12 years earlier. To miss it, it was like missing a meal. I found about a third of the seminarians at Sacred Heart, [a special seminary for late vocations] were widowers, a third were divorced and annulled, and a third had never married.”

Prayer life? “I’m past the age where I can run eight miles a day as I used to in New Mexico. Now I do ‘spiritual exercise’ — the liturgy of the hours. The breviary comes naturally for some, but for most of us it is an ‘exercise.’ There are dividends if you stay faithful.

“Father George McKenna got me started on the breviary 10 years before I entered seminary. I went to the Holy Land 17 times with him. On the airplane once, he taught me how to say it.”

Leisure: “How does a priest spend the unaccompanied hours of his life? I have to be active. I play the concertina and love to participate in sessions with other musicians playing traditional Irish jigs and reels. John Williams is my teacher, probably the best concertina player in the country.”

He’s reading Karl Menninger’s, “Whatever Happened to Sin?” “I’ve enjoyed Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s ‘Priests for the Third Millennium’ — a great book for seminarians. And I work at my Spanish. I’ve taken courses at Daley College and Moraine Valley to keep up.”

Favorite Quote: “That one of St. Augustine: ‘Dear Lord, you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.’”