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August 16, 2009

Born with a sense of justice and gratitude

By Dolores Madlener



Father Dan Mallette, pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish on the Southwest Side, with Tuffy No. 5.Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

He is: Father Daniel Mallette, pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland. Ordained 1957 at Mundelein Seminary. His photo made the front page of both daily papers last month during the problems at Burr Oak Cemetery. It’s not the first time he’s made headlines. He is a warrior when it comes to racial injustice.

Growing up: “I was an only child with 41 first cousins. My mother was one of 10 children; my father one of 11. I’m exactly one-quarter each French, German, Polish and Irish. My mother had six sisters and each Sunday, it was so incredible, everybody would gather at one of the sisters’ houses for a big family dinner. Then the men would play pinochle.”

School days: Attended St. Mary Magdalene School in South Chicago, “taught by the wonderful Felician nuns.” Graduated from St. Ailbe’s, and said his first Mass there.

Tough times: “My first job was 10 cents an hour selling newspapers. My next job was at Rusch’s Drug Store at 84th & Marquette for 40 cents an hour.”

Sports: “I liked Mike Tresh of the White Sox, No. 15. He never hit that good. He only hit one or two home runs in his career. Then his kid came along and played for the Yankees and hit 25 a year.

I played everything but was only good at alley football. I loved football.”

Priesthood: “I always wanted to be a priest. Msgr. John Kozlowski was so holy when he would say: ‘Hoc est enim corpus meum.’ My biggest hero even as a kid, was Father Martin Farrell. He was the first guy who said let’s let Black kids in our schools, and have people from the South take instructions to become Catholic.”

Awareness: “From grammar school on, I got a sense from my folks, how screwed up the world was on racial injustice and hatred. [Father] George Clements and I, he was the only Black guy out of 415 of us at Quigley in 1945, we were always close. We rode the Jackson Park El every day to State and Chicago and walked over to Quigley.”

Some of his causes: Loyola University’s basketball team pioneered integration, but a couple months after winning the NCAA championship in 1963, there was an incident. A Black Loyola coed, Micki (Marie) Leaner, was refused admittance to the segregated pool at Loyola’s Lewis Towers, operated by the Illinois Club for Catholic Women. Mallette was the only priest who joined seven nuns, students and others picketing the ICCW. “That picture of our protest went all over the world.”

Before marching in Selma, “I went to Mississippi with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1964. Three Civil Rights activists had just been killed.”

During the struggle for integration in Chicago schools, “I got arrested with James Farmer and Dick Gregory at Buckingham Fountain.” They spent several days in the house of correction.

Assignments: His priesthood has included 11 years at St. Agatha’s on the West Side, and four years in New York as dean of [minority] student affairs at Fordham. “Then I got in trouble with Cardinal Cody for driving a cab on weekends to be like a priest/worker.” He came to St. Margaret after a year at St. Norbert in Northbrook.

Etc.: Favorite saint? “Martin de Porres.” Any pets? “A dog, Tuffy No. 5. I got Tuffy No. 1 when FDR was in office.” Leisure? “I go on two retreats a year. I don’t need a day off. I love doing what I do. It’s the job I wanted when I was six years old.”

Favorite verse: “Take up your cross and follow me.”