August 26, 2012
We can thank the Legion of Mary for one more priest
He is: Father Francis Li, pastor of St. Therese Parish in Chicago’s Chinatown. Former associate pastor at St. Barbara Parish in Bridgeport. Ordained in 1999.
Youth: “I grew up in Shanxi Province on mainland China and attended public schools. I come from a big family, four brothers and two sisters. My younger sister is a nun. We have a family farm. My father had many sons to do the everyday farm work. As the youngest I helped out on summer vacations from school. Father was also a kind of community leader in our village and had to spend time at meetings and taking care of the concerns of the people.”
Roots of faith: “As far back as I can remember my family has been Catholic. My parents were devout. In fact my whole village is Catholic, which is very unusual.
“There is an interesting story during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 — soldiers tried to destroy our church. Soldiers came into our village and people ran into the church for safety. It was at the foot of a high hill. The soldiers went up the hill and started to shoot at the church. After about 10 minutes they saw white ‘spirits’ they called ‘ghosts” catching all the bullets. We as Catholics believe they were angels. The church was not destroyed, the people were saved, and the soldiers got scared and left. From that time on most people there joined the Catholic Church.”
What about the Cultural Revolution?: “I was born in 1973, so I was a baby. But stories are told how Catholics were persecuted, and many could not use the churches for Masses. They had to do it secretly in houses late at night or early in the morning. Some Catholics were publicly humiliated. A lot of stories like that are told among the people. Fortunately my parents, brothers and sisters went through all that and were able to do family prayers every night. I remember my mother made sure we prayed together before we went to bed. It was a hard time for Catholics, but people kept their faith and found ways to practice it.”
Vocation: “I must say my mother was a very good example. She did not have a lot of education but she knew more prayers than a lot of well-educated people. She learned them by repetition. She prayed the rosary every day. After my youngest sister went to be a nun, she began talking to me about the possibility of priesthood.
“In 1992 I went to a seminary for studies. We had English classes in high school, college and even in the seminary. I didn’t take it too seriously at that time, thinking, ‘I’ll never use this!’ But God works in surprising ways. For my M.Div. I went through the University of St. Mary of the Lake at Mundelein, with the class of 1999.” (After graduation he was ordained back in China, and now serves the Chinese community in Chicago.)
“I did not know my mother belonged to the Legion of Mary until she passed away. She had special clothes prepared for her funeral, black with a white cross, so I found out. That was part of the reason why she loved the rosary.”
Leisure: “I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s “In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership.” I like to visit friends, go to movies, and to a gym regularly. I walk or bike along the lake. I enjoyed the recent Olympics on TV — especially the gymnastics, swimming and basketball.”
Favorite Scripture verse: “The Old Testament story where God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he desires, and he asks for wisdom. I always pray for guidance and wisdom. That’s why our parents are into education for their children, because wisdom is valued. St. Francis of Assisi, my patron, is my favorite saint. His love for nature is inspirational to me and my spiritual life — that’s why I like Lake Michigan so much.”