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December 2 - December 15, 2012

See what can happen if a kid says the rosary?

By Dolores Madlener

STAFF WRITER

Interviewee

Father Micheal O'Connell, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish, rescued Maddie two years ago from a shelter. Now Maddie has a house that looks like a church. Julie Jaidinger / Catholic New World

He is: Father Michael W. O’Connell, new pastor, as of July 1, 2012, of St. Alphonsus Parish 1429 W. Wellington Ave. Former pastor of Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park (1997-2012). Ordained in 1983 at Mundelein.

Growing up: “I was a Northwest Sider originally. My family was from St. Ferdinand Parish. Then we moved out to Des Plaines and were in St. Emily’s where I went to school and then St. Zachary’s where I continued school. I went to Forest View High in Arlington Heights.” In 1975 he entered the seminary at Niles College. “We were the first class to be ordained by Cardinal Bernardin. He referred to us as being ‘rookies’ with him. There was a special bonding.

“I had a sister I was very close to who passed away in 2004, and I have two brothers, both married. Dad was in wholesale paper sales and worked until they made him retire when he was 79. He’d still be working otherwise. Both my parents are living in Des Plaines. They’ve also taken on my sister’s daughter. They’re very attached to her and she’s a big help for them.”

Sports: “In high school I was on the swimming team. I became a runner in the seminary and right after ordination started to do triathlons. I did a number of those and now I’m experiencing the craziness of those years in my joints, but still get to the gym at least five days a week.”

Vocation: “Part of it was the example of the priests we had at St. Zachary’s, like Father Gene Galvin, Father Bill Zavaski, Father Rich Homa. After I entered Niles I spent a couple of summers on the West Side at Presentation Parish with Father Ray Cusack. In watching him I wanted a life like his.”

Parish life: “My first pastor at St. Michael’s in Orland Park was then Msgr. Gorman, now Bishop. In 1989 I moved to St. Mary’s in Lake Forest and in 1993, at the invitation of Cardinal Bernardin, pursued doctoral studies in Rome at the Gregorian University.

“When I’d been at St. Michael’s I was part of the team Msgr. Gorman organized that resulted in the establishment of Our Lady of the Woods Parish. It was fascinating to go back in 1997 as the pastor and be a part of a growing southwest suburban community.

“We built our parish center, a large gym, developed an athletic association -- we paid it off well before I left -- the miracle. We also built a rectory in 2003 and I was able to welcome Bishop Gorman as a resident. He used to jokingly refer to me as ‘the landlord.’

“St. Alphonsus is well over 100 years old and the church has been recently restored by the former pastor. Seventy percent of our parishioners are under the age of 35. Our school has over 420 kids. We have descendants of the people who came from Germany and established the parish, there’s the Spanish-speaking community, young families and young adults who are just out of college, beginning their careers.

Pastoral approach: “I want people in my care to draw deeper into the church and into relationship with the Lord. That motivated me at St. Michael’s in Orland Park with the young people; and at St. Mary’s in Lake Forest, in reaching out to students at Lake Forest College; at Our Lady of the Woods certainly, and it motivated me in Rome. Aside from study I was active in a parish community there.

“At St. Alphonsus I want to find ways to improve our outreach as we move along together. I want to build on what’s already been done and reach even further in inviting our people to service of the poor.”

Prayer life: “I was deeply influenced by the Jesuits, my teachers at the Gregorian University, and one priest who helped reshape my prayer through some insights by St. Ignatius. The Liturgy of the Hours has always been a key part of my prayer life. I say the rosary daily, which I started to do as a kid. So those pieces and daily Mass form my prayer life.”

Leisure: “I try to get together with classmates once a week for a breakfast, lunch or dinner, and often I’ll be out in Des Plaines with my family.

“I’m reading Ken Follett’s ‘World Without End,’ the sequel to ‘Pillars of the Earth.’ I love historical fiction. I feel sad at the end when the characters won’t be in my life. That’s when I know it’s good.

“My dog’s name is Maddie. She’d been abandoned as a puppy and was in a kill shelter. One of the girls from the parish who was volunteering there sent the puppy’s picture to everyone to try and save her. I got in my car and two hours later Maddie was at home. It was the best impulsive decision I ever made.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “The canticle of Zechariah from St. Luke’s Gospel: “The dawn from on high shall break upon us, and he will guide our feet in the way of peace.’”