Tuesday, January 3, 2006

The First Anniversary for Father Mac: Father Clements’ Reminiscence

New Year’s Eve, Saturday, December 31 was the first anniversary of the death of Chicago’s most revered priest, Monsignor Ignatius McDermott. He died at 95, twenty-nine years to the day that his world-famed institution, Haymarket Center, opened. The joint commemoration, marking Father Mac’s and Haymarket’s 30th anniversary, was marked with a Mass at Haymarket Center’s chapel and a reception. Many of those attending were, it is fair to say, beneficiaries of Father Mac’s tough love which rescued them from the deadly perils of addiction. Others, like me, while fortunately spared the ravages of the disease, were privileged to have known this colorful priest with whom I dined twice each week for a number of years—each Monday for dinner and each Saturday for lunch (at Manny’s)—and about whom I wrote his biography.

I was particularly struck by the brief sermon delivered by the celebrant, Father George Clements. Father Clements has attained national recognition as a South Side pastor who adopted several homeless African American youths as “sons” and who urged his fellow pastors to motivate their parishes to adopt other young people. Now he is in Washington, D. C. urging Catholic parishes to “adopt” recovering alcoholics and addicts. I didn’t take notes and wasn’t prepared to (until I regretted not having pad and pencil, so struck was I by its simple eloquence) but it went like this:

“Not many people know that mid-way through my course to study for the priesthood, I had decided to leave, believing the priesthood was not for me. By the time I had made the decision, the fall term ended and the question was whether or not I would serve out the summer vacation in a kind of internship which was requisite for the study. I had told them I wasn’t interested in the priesthood but decided to serve the summer out anyhow, and go on my way afterward. Because I was drawn to the problems of what was then Skid Row, I made a visit down there one hot summer night. The men were drifting by. Suddenly a sick, all but physically destroyed man tottered out of a saloon and threw up all over himself. So nauseating was the sight that the other men veered away from him and indeed I was withdrawn as well. Then somebody said, “Here he comes!” A car pulled up and an elderly priest leapt out and reached out for the man.

“Somebody said, `watch it, Father, he’s throwing up all over himself!’ The priest treated their caution gruffly, shunted all of us away and tenderly helped the sick man into the car, the vomit and defecation soaking the priest’s coat. The car pulled away.

“I said, `who was that?’ The men in the group said, nonchalantly, `that was Father Mac. He’s down here every night.’

“It was then that I decided to stay in the seminary and with the help of God I would grow up to be just like Father Mac.”

The talk took all of five minutes after which he returned to celebrating the Ma

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