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November 22, 2009

Been teacher, principal, priest and pastor

By Dolores Madlener



Father Father Thomas Unz, pastor of Divine Providence Parish in Westchester. Catholic New World/Judy Jaidinger

He is: Father Thomas Unz, pastor of Divine Providence Parish in Westchester since 2002. Was pastor previously at St. Pius X Parish in Stickney. Ordained, Mundelein Seminary in 1983.

Roots: Born in Milwaukee and went to school there, but moved to Chicago after graduation from Marquette University. “I went to graduate school at Loyola and got a master’s degree in classical languages.”

Years in Uptown: There were no openings for a high school Latin teacher, so he tried the elementary level. “St. Mary of the Lake Grammar School in Uptown had an opening for sixth grade. I interviewed and was accepted. Two nuns teaching seventh and eighth asked if I wouldn’t mind teaching math and science in junior high instead.” He told them, “I’m sure I can keep one step ahead of the kids.” He enjoyed it. “I was there for eight years. During that time I pursued a master’s degree in educational administration.”

Stepping up: He was hired as principal of St. James School in Maywood. “It was a multi-ethnic community. Although I lived in Oak Park, I became a parishioner at St. James. I wanted to worship with the community I was serving. It was a small, wonderful parish. People knew each other. We had a good pastor.”

The move: By his fourth year as principal, “I had thoughts of pursuing priesthood — serving God’s people in another way. I had thought about it throughout my life, but kept giving myself excuses. By the time I began working and had my own apartment, I thought ‘I really can’t give all this up, blah, blah, blah.’ The excuses no longer made sense. ‘Maybe God is calling me. He’s been trying all these years, and here I am, 34 years old, and haven’t answered.’”

Never too late: “I talked to some priest friends who encouraged me to apply to the seminary.” He was accepted. “Most of the guys in my class were younger, but I had no trouble adjusting to seminary life.” His assignments have been in the Western suburbs, including Berwyn, Cicero and River Forest. “I’m really happy I finally answered the call. I’m happy with what I’m doing.”

His youth: “I was an altar server and I think that’s what directed me towards the study of Latin. My younger brother became a fireman in West Allis, Wis. He was saving lives and I was saving souls. He’s retired now. I enjoyed gardening as a kid and dabble in the garden around the parish and elsewhere.” He golfs and plays in the parish golf league.

Parish life: “I enjoy getting to know people and establishing relationships.” Recently 200 parishioners rang doorbells in the area to let more Catholics know what the parish has to offer. “The upcoming ‘Catholics Come Home’ campaign will piggy-back on that really well.”

Favorite saint: “My patron, St. Thomas Aquinas. When I was studying philosophy, metaphysics dealt a lot with the Summa Theologica, so I was reading his works. But he was my saint even before that.”

Prayer time: He makes a retreat once a year. “I like to go to New Melleray. The Trappist monks pray at various times of the day and retreatants are invited to participate. And of course, praying the Divine Office. If you’re just busy all the time, that affects your apostolic work.”

Favorite Quote: “From Micah: ‘Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.’”