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July 5, 2009

He finds inspiration in parish’s young adults

By Dolores Madlener



Father James Hurlbert, pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Chicago, stands in the church’s newly renovated space.Catholic New World/Julie Jadinger

He is: Father James Hurlbert, pastor of St. Alphonsus Church on West Wellington. Earned degrees in philosophy and psychology at Kalamazoo College and his licentiate in sacred theology from St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. Ordained 1990.

Growing up: Born near Detroit, the oldest of seven. “When I was nine we moved here to Northbrook where I went to St. Norbert’s. Then we moved up to Lake Forest in seventh grade and I attended St. Mary’s.” He went a year to Loyola Academy in Wilmette before the family moved back to Birmingham, Mich.

Transitions: “My dad was in commercial real estate working for Ford. He joined a group developing properties in the Loop,” and that brought them to the Chicago area. “The move to Chicago was a tough one for me in fourth grade. From Northbrook to Lake Forest wasn’t too bad, but then moving back to Detroit in high school — that was a rough one.”

Priesthood: While attending Kalamazoo College, “I wasn’t really thinking of seminary until the second half of my senior year. I come from a pretty devout family, so priesthood didn’t seem strange or unusual. My senior year I did an exploring-thepriesthood weekend and after that the desire increased.

“I had gotten a grant to study in Germany an extra year after graduation from college (I’d spent a semester there during my junior year). I needed some undergrad theology and was able to take that, too.” When he got back he was accepted at Mundelein.

“I was interested in the German language in college — the country and culture always fascinated me.” Modestly he won’t say he’s “fluent,” but he offers Mass in German once a month at St. Alphonsus.

Following the Redemptorists: He is the first diocesan priest at St. Alphonsus since the Redemptorist order arrived in 1885. “During the transition I commuted from St. Anne’s in Barrington three days a week for six months while the Redemptorists were still here. We developed a good relationship and the parishioners were welcoming.” It’s his first pastorship. “I’m trying to focus on what I can do best. My pastoral associate, Cathy Crino, is the brains behind a lot of the ministerial development. We just finished a big renovation of the interior of the church and our school has begun to thrive because we have families dedicated to its success. We reinvented its mission and name: St. Alphonsus Academy and Center for the Arts.” An enhanced curriculum sets it apart from the usual school.

A traveler among travelers: “We have a Spanish-speaking community, a German-speaking community, and 70 percent of our parishioners are between 22 and 35. Our social activities are a draw for some. There’s always room for people to step forward and do things. We try to not get in the way of that kind of stuff. Many of our young adults are professionals. If they have ideas we give them space to act on them. We provide oversight and support. A third of our parish turns over every year. It’s the transient nature of young adults.”

Young adults: “They generally come from church-going families and their faith is important to them. They don’t need to be coaxed; they’re here because they’re into it. We have an excellent music program and invest a lot in it.” Along with the priests who help with Masses on the weekend and the pastoral associate, “We try to be outgoing and create a climate. The older people say it does their hearts good to see a church full of young people.”

What he’s reading: I just read Paula Huston’s book on forgiveness — she’s a Camaldolese Benedictine oblate, and David Bentley Hart’s, ‘Atheist Delusions.’ It is a response to the resurgence in active atheism.”

His motto: “It’s on my chalice, ‘Caritas Christi urget nos:’ The love of Christ impels us.”