For 109 years, Jesuits have served as chaplains at Cook County’s public hospital.
They were at Cook County Hospital for the influenza epidemic of 1918. They were there for the Great Depression, the Great Migration and two world wars. They were there for the opening of the state-of-the-art Stroger Hospital almost 10 years ago.
But as the Jesuit mission has evolved, and the numbers of available Jesuit priests have diminished, the Society of Jesus formally turned over responsibility for the Catholic chaplains at the hospital to the archdiocese.
While the changeover was to be formally effective July 1, a ceremony recognizing it was held June 21, the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
It was an appropriate day, Cardinal George noted, because St. Aloysius was a wealthy man who gave up everything he owned to become a Jesuit. He died before he could become a priest, however. He took ill himself serving the sick in plague-ridden Rome.
“That sacrifice goes on today, day after day, night after night,” the cardinal said before blessing a plaque that honors the Jesuits for their service.
Jesuit Father Joel Medina, who most recently has been coordinating the chaplains at Stroger, will move on to become a chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center. A registered nurse for 25 years before he became a Jesuit, Medina said it is a privilege to be with people at times of need.
“When someone is dying, when someone has passed away, you can bring the healing presence of God,” he said.
Stepping into the chaplain’s role will be Father Jackson Colon, an archdiocesan priest from Haiti who speaks Spanish, French and Creole as well as English.
He will get part-time help from Jesuit Father Robert Finn, who has the same role now, as well as another priest. Jesuit scholastics and members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps also will continue to help at Stroger.
Jesuit Father Timothy Kesicki, provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus, said the Jesuits simply are not able to continue their ministry at the hospital, which began in 1903.
That doesn’t mean the society is no longer committed to the city, he noted. “We’ve opened three new schools here — Cristo Rey, Christ the King and Chicago Jesuit Academy,” he said.