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November 11, 2007

Here's spunky goalkeeper of the faith

By Dolores Madlener



Father Martin E. Michniewicz, pastor, St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Calumet City, is a fervent hockey fan. Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

He is: Father Martin E. Michniewicz (pronounced “Mick-nevich”), born Aug. 18, 1960. Ordained at St. Mary of the Lake in 1986. Pastor of St. Andrew’s in Calumet City for 12 years.

Grew up in wide open spaces: “We moved to Orland Park in 1969. St. Mike’s was the only Catholic school. There was no Orland Square Mall. McDonald’s and Jewel were in Palos Heights. We played our baseball, football and hockey in the street.”

Family life: Has an older sister and brother. His father, Edwin, drove a tanker truck for Shell Oil. Mom went to work as a sales supervisor for Bridgeport Machinery when he was in kindergarten. Classmates at St. Michael School will tell you, while not the class clown, “I found humor in everything.”

Books and school never a problem: Attended Quigley Seminary South and Niles College of Loyola Seminary. Has a bachelors in history, a masters in Divinity from Mundelein and a doctorate pending.

Feels his vocation was fed from childhood: “We were a spiritual family. Sunday Mass was a priority. Before we went to bed, in grade school, we kids knelt at the side of our parents’ bed and said our prayers. Faith was nurtured in the home and our relatives were religious, too.”

Kept busy: He worked his way through higher education “as an Andy Frain usher, at K-mart and Dominick’s. I was one of the Tribune’s first telemarketers in 1977-78.” While in the seminary he spent summers doing day camp apostolates with youth.

First wheels: The car was a hand-me-down his mom had driven. “The year was 1977. The car was a ’70 Oldsmobile Delta 88.”

Vocation call came from outside and inside: “The influence of good parish priests inspired my vocation. But a lot of it was internal. I had a good personal relationship with God and thought I wanted to serve him and his people.” Family was supportive yet skeptical at first, “because I was the one always talking and being rambunctious.”

What would the apostles do?: He likens the variety of persons called to priesthood to the diversity of the 12 apostles. “You look at a painting of the Last Supper and you think they were clones of each other. Not so. Hey, some were fishermen, tax collectors, carpenters, with different personalities. I like to think they were each good at different charisms, some preaching, some were quiet, and I’m sure of the 12 one of them had a lighter side, and Jesus would have to say, ‘All right, settle down now and get serious.’”

Best piece of advice he’s gotten: From his father, “Be yourself.” How does he follow it? “I don’t let things get to me. I’ve realized through prayer and reflection, ‘Hey, things will go on.’”

Biggest challenges as a pastor: “To get those who don’t go to church to realize they should take time to praise our Lord.” Finds the best part of being a confessor is “that people know God still loves them and if they’re contrite they’re forgiven and are welcomed to God’s family. They cheer up when they hear the words of absolution.”

What he’s into: “I try and get to the health club five times a week. My favorite sport is Black Hawks hockey.” Friends rely on him to be edgy. “I like wearing my Toronto Maple Leafs jersey to hockey games to throw the fans off.” He also enjoys the idealized world of medieval tales, “Like gargoyles, knights and suits of armor.”

If he could pen an 11th commandment, it would read: “Thou shalt give thanks each day for the gifts God has given you.”