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January 15, 2012

Prayer and art, his keys to help people cope

By Dolores Madlener

STAFF WRITER

Interviewee

Servite Father Christopher Krymski, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, listened to the petitions at Mass as the Order of the Friar Servants of Mary, U.S. province, (the Servites), were celebrating the order's 775th anniversary at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica on June 12, 2008. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

He is: Servite Father Chris Krymski, 25th pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica. He is former pastor of Annunciata Parish on the Southeast Side. Chaplain for 10 years at Loyola Hospital and the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center. Has a degree in psychology, a masters degree in art therapy from the Art Institute and a masters in divinity from CTU.

Youth: “I’m from Detroit. That’s where I found my vocation, in a Servite-staffed parish called St. John Berchman. We had seven priests in the rectory, 50 Servite sisters in the grade school and Servite High, connected with the parish. I went through all 12 years there.

“Dad was a tool-and-die maker. He was the artist, and I’m an artist. At Christmas I can remember him decorating the house with homemade decorations. He would cut out life-sized tin figures and put them outside as a nativity scene. I lived in a very religious family. So much so that my mother sewed vestments when I was playing priest at the age of 3. She’d have all the colors —  I felt like the Infant of Prague!

“My father died when he was 39; I was 4. My mom died of breast cancer when she was 55 and I was 17.”

Vocation: “Then I lived with my older brother, my only sibling. I entered the seminary after graduation from the University of Detroit. As I was leaving that morning, my brother said to me, ‘You know, there’s no money in it.’ (He was right, I’m at Our Lady of Sorrows, and there’s no money!) Ironically I was ordained here at the basilica in 1983.

Interests: “I have two full-time jobs, pastor, plus national director of St. Peregrine Ministries, and I love both.” He also leads retreats and parish missions, mostly on the healing mission of St. Peregrine. He says, “Healing touches everybody’s life, because there’s so much brokenness in this world.”

He led a pilgrimage to Italy last year. “When I was pastor at Annunciata we had a travel club of parishioners. We went to Ireland, Canada and other shrines. We did a yellow bus tour last October to St. John, Ind., to see the Shrine of Christ’s Passion. We have a Friends of St. Peregrine newsletter with about 9,000 on our mailing list. Sad to say they’re often on the list because of serious illness.  If they say, ‘I have heart disease or macular degeneration, who’s my saint?’ I say, ‘St. Peregrine is a big friend to everybody.’” 

Favorite Bible passage: “Mary, at the foot of the cross. St. John’s Gospel where Jesus says, ‘Mary, this is your son,’ and to John, ‘this is your mother.’ It was also a generous gift to Mary, a way to say, ‘You’re not alone.’”

There are so many people still being oppressed for what they believe in. We have to stand and help them as much as we can. …the marginalized, people involved with domestic violence, those Christian-Catholics active in the secular world facing so much opposition, and the little ones with no voice — the unborn.” 

Prayer life: “I’m extroverted; I have to work at the contemplative side. I have a studio where I merge prayer life with art. I do mostly nature scenes or religious figures, and a lot of abstract acrylic work. I love mandala art. The whole idea of mandala is the Sanskrit word that means ‘wholeness.’ So if you’re working in a circular form of course you’re working in the image of eternity because it’s the unbroken line of a circle. I actually wrote a thesis on it for my art therapy degree. I used the mandala form working with a bereavement ministry group and a cancer support group.

“I have a St. Peregrine support group on the third Saturday and we gently talk about pictures. I took a photo at St. John’s of the third fall of Christ. Jesus is flat on the ground and the cross is a big piece of lumber across his back. Isn’t that the image of cancer? I used that in the group. So many people told their story, how they feel about it. That’s where the healing happens when you can tell other adults where it hurts.”