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April 12, 2009

Life is more than a song to this lifelong Beatles fan

By Dolores Madlener



Father Kenneth Budzikowski, pastor of St. Thecla Parish on Northwest Side, poses with his guitar.Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

He is: Father Kenneth Budzikowski. Ordained 1980. Served at St. Thecla since 1999, as associate pastor and as pastor since 2000. Dean of Deanery F, Vicariate II, Northwest Side. Vicariate II moderator of the archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women for 10 years. A South Sider, all his assignments have been north. Tells people, “I feel like St. Paul among the Gentiles.”

Growing up: Attended St. Roman’s School first through fifth grades. “We played baseball in the streets and alleys because there weren’t any parks around. We lived in a two-flat and my cousins lived upstairs, so I had built-in buddies.” When the family moved into a ranch home in St. Camillus Parish he didn’t know anyone. “But by seventh grade I had a lot of friends.”

Family: “I have a sister, Christine, who’s married and lives in Green Bay, Wis. Dad worked for Visking Union Carbide Corp. for over 30 years. He never wanted to move up into management. They asked him, but he was a humble man, a World War II vet.

My aunt was a Sister of Nazareth. She asked Mom to substitute teach at Holy Rosary Slovak in Roseland for a year. Then Mom worked at Watra’s Religious Goods Store, waiting on bishops and priests for over 10 years. The owner was a personal friend of Karol Wojtyla, so Mom attended the installation of Pope John Paul II in the front row. The whole store went.”

Faith roots: “Our family was prayerful. Morning and night prayers were expected. My dad worked shift but never missed Mass. We went to church on Sundays as a family when possible.”

Penchant for languages: He served Mass in Latin from third grade at St. Roman’s, later serving Polish Masses at St. Camillus “although I didn’t understand what I was saying. The nuns taught us the prayers phonetically.” Discovering he had a flair for Spanish while at Niles College Seminary, he later taught Spanish at Niles from 1986- 94.

Vocation call: “I was in second grade. We were going to some relatives and had to change busses at 79th & Western Ave. They were building Quigley South. My mom explained it was a seminary where people learn to be priests, and I said, “That’s where I’m going.” I got to know our parish priests because I substituted a lot of times for missing altar servers and worked as a ‘rectory rat’ while at Quigley.”

Jobs: “My first year at Niles my buddies and I played in a band at weddings and parties. A couple summers I worked at U.S. Steel South Works. It was dirty and dangerous. Later I laid track for the North Western Railroad. I had been a scrawny kid, and after that summer I could actually throw a ball.”

Musical mentors: “I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes. I like to play the old country and western stuff, but I was always into rock ’n’ roll. My buddies and I used to play a lot of ’50s stuff. The ‘holy trinity’ is Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana. When I was leaving St. Paul of the Cross Parish, Park Ridge, one of my going- away presents was a ticket to see Santana in concert.”

Performing April 19: When he performs with other local priests and religious in “Padres Plus on Parade II” at St. Scholastica Academy, what will he play? “It’ll be a Doc Watson song, ‘Deep River Blues,’ kind of a country-folk-blues thing, and an instrumental medley of three Beatles songs.”

Forever Sox fan: “As a kid we didn’t live that far from old Comiskey Park. On a Friday night we could hear the score board going off. My uncle was a Sox fan and he’d take us there. We didn’t have a car until I was in sixth grade, so everything was ‘by bus or by relatives.’”

Vacations: “Driving trips: The last number of years I just hop on an interstate and go. Last year I took I-80 and ended up in San Francisco. Year before I ended up in Seattle — before that the Dakotas. Did Route 66 two or three times. I’ve literally gotten in my car in the morning — bags packed, empty credit card, full tank of gas — hit the expressway and then decided which way I wanted to go.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “The one I go back to is the Gospel on the Beatitudes. I think they speak to everybody’s life.”

Eleventh commandment?: “Listen to the first 10.”