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July 17, 2011

A hike and a good book

By Dolores Madlener

STAFF WRITER

Interviewee

Father John Plotkowski, pastor of St. Zachary Parish, Des Plaines, blesses the ground of the new parish center following an outdoor Mass on Aug. 5, 2007. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

He is: Father John (Jack) Plotkowski, pastor of St. Zachary Parish in DesPlaines, former pastor of St. Simeon in Bellwood. Attended Quigley South, Niles College and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. Ordained in 1974.

Youth: Has two older brothers and a younger sister. He attended St. Turibius School on the Southwest Side. “My grandparents lived with us and spoke Polish with my parents, but not with the kids. My grandmother would practice her English on me. I picked up very little Polish. But we had a favorite cousin Dolores, and I learned, ‘We’re going to Dolores’s, but don’t tell the kids.’ I was an altar server and we did all those growing-up-Catholic religious practices as a family.

“Dad was a supervisor at American Decal on the West Side and then at Fullerton and Pulaski. The factory made vehicle stickers, and military emblems for tanks and planes. My mom was basically a homemaker.”

Call to priesthood: “We had some very good priests at the parish when I was growing up.  My oldest brother is a semi-retired priest in New Mexico. He’s nine years older, and he was kind of a model for me. During the summers at Quigley and Mundelein I worked all kind of jobs – from the decal company with my dad, and the old tractor works of International Harvester, or pumping gas at the original Gas City on 55th & Pulaski, to the Federal Reserve Bank downtown.”

Is it hard to leave a parish? Well, I have 37 years of priesthood. For me leaving my first assignment was probably the toughest. After that it’s part of what we do and who we are. We move on. I’m the kind of guy who looks forward to new challenges. That’s kind of exciting for me.”

Spiritual tools: I try to be faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours. My basic prayer life is based on a lot of reflection on Scripture. Lectio Divina, is the “in” term for it. In my homilies I try to apply the Scriptures to what’s going on in our life. I find often I’m preaching what I have to hear, along with what the people need to hear, and that correlates pretty well most of the time.

“In the early ‘90s I took a sabbatical and did the Hesburgh Program at Notre Dame. I was in my middle 40s and I think I needed it at that time.  There were priests there from all over the world, Africa, and other places, a number of them were missionaries, so they had a whole different experience that was very valuable to share.”

Leisure: “I usually visit my brother in Albuquerque in September. I might first do the mountains or something like that. My favorite trip, a couple years ago, was the Missouri River, Northern Montana and the Lewis & Clark trail. That was interesting and a whole lot of fun. I’m an American history buff.

“I’m also a great fan of state parks in Illinois. One of my favorites is Illinois Beach in Zion. The other one I like is White Pines, west of Oregon. On my day off I may take a ride to one of the parks, grab lunch on the way, and take a hike. Then maybe find a good tree and read for a little bit. Peace and quiet clears the mind. I’m also a big White Sox fan and I’ll take in a couple ball games on occasion.”

Reading: “My building-up-to-Easter reading this year was by the Scripture scholar and Anglican bishop N. T. Wright, ‘Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.’  I found it very spiritual and it helped me pray going into the Easter season.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “Top of the list is from John’s Gospel where Jesus said, ‘I came so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.’ I see my job as priest being a vehicle to make that life manifest in the lives of our people, through the sacraments, words and service.”