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March 1, 2009

He hopes to build bridges

By Dolores Madlener



Father Andrew Luczak, pastor of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Niles, stands in front of a piece of origami art made with 1,001 silver foil cranes. It was a gift from a Japanese family who were former parishioners.Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

He is: Father Andrew Luczak, ordained 1970, Mundelein Seminary. Pastor, St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Niles; former pastor of St. Lambert Parish, Skokie. Works with Ethnic Ministry Office and archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Co-chairs Buddhist- Catholic Dialogue of Chicago.

Growing up: “Our Lady of Lourdes was a mixed neighborhood. My friends’ names will tell you: Voss, Bolivar, Pinasco, Frelingsdorf, O’Rourke — we had variety.” He attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette.

Family: “I had one sister, Mary Ellen, a BVM. She died in an auto accident in 1968 at age 29. My dad was in maintenance and mom was a checker at National Tea. She had friends who were Greek, German, Irish, even Latvian. I think that’s where I get it.”

Ancestors: He’s a member of the Polish Genealogy Society. “Our family is Polish and Scottish. I’m doing genealogical research. My great-grandmother’s brother, Father Stanislaus Rogalski, CR, was one of the early pastors of St John Cantius and St. Stanislaus Kostka. On my father’s side of the family were the Gordons. They probably immigrated to Poland after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746. Catholics were treated badly in Scotland, but welcomed in Poland. My great-grandfather’s cousin was Father Francis Gordon, CR, who founded St. Mary of the Angels Parish, a Polish-language paper, and helped establish the Sisters of the Resurrection. Gordon Tech was named after him.”

Staying curious: “I’m interested in ethnic diversity. I believe whatever we are is God’s gift to be shared. The enriching and beautiful things in our cultures, — art or food or music — can help us to be more fully human and Catholic.”

West meets East: Studied Asian cultures and Buddhism at Catholic Theological Union during a sabbatical in 1992 to 1993 and travelled to Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. While an official representative to the Gethsemane Encounter in 1996: “I met the Dalai Lama. It was an awesome experience. One of the things that impressed me was his high regard for the late Thomas Merton.

“A Cambodian monk, renowned for his heroism in the days of the Pol Pot regime led us on a walking meditation to the grave of Merton.

“You realized the impact Merton must have had on the Dalai Lama. Before their meeting the Dalai Lama had little appreciation for Christianity. Their friendship produced a real sympathy between two religions. Merton was a ‘bridge.’ In our multicultural, interreligious society we need people who can build those bridges.”

How do you view Lent? “Lent is like going from the lowest possible point in life to the highest point. It’s a journey up. In our church’s decor for Lent we put out willow branches in wet sand. On Ash Wednesday everything looks dead. As time goes by, with proper watering, these plants begin to bud. Sometimes even flower. We go from the dead of winter to new life at Easter. The natural world reflects what we celebrate liturgically.”

Hobbies: He collects religious and folk art. “As a student of Chinese brush painting I found it a way to meditate and concentrate. Some of my most embarrassing ‘studies’ happened because I wasn’t concentrating. I once asked my teacher, Monica Liu, about enrolling in Tai Chi. She said, ‘Why? What you’re doing is really the same thing.’”

Relaxation: “My favorite authors over time are G. K. Chesterton and Nathaniel Hawthorne.”