I loved listening to Father Jerry.
My family would go to whatever Mass he was celebrating (even if it was early) at St. Joseph's, in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette where I grew up. We went to see Fr. Jerry because, like I said, he was great to listen to.
One Advent he talked about moving the Wise Men Nativity figures around the living room as a boy. He and his sister got very excited when the Wise Men got on top of the TV, since they were close to the Nativity scene and Christmas, he said, and we all chuckled.
Another time, he was talking about a retreat, and his cell phone rang right there. He answered it, held it out, and told the congregation: "This call's for you. It's from God. He wants you at the
His talent was making these abstract concepts, these faraway people and places, real.
I was a kid when he was at St. Joe's in the '90s. But even as a kid, I listened to what he said. After walking out those big wood doors, after having our post-church ice cream, after starting a new school week, I still thought about what he'd said and tried to live up to it.
We were very sad when he left St. Joe's. I'm pretty sure I cried at his goodbye service.
Then, last week, he unexpectedly popped back into my life. There was a media advisory in my Journal Times mailbox about the Jan. 4 installation of the new Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.
I immediately e-mailed my mom, saying I wanted to talk to him about St. Joe's. "Did you know this?? ... This is our Fr. Jerry, right??"
The reply: "oh my god! yes, I knew that and I thought I told you! wow wow wow are you lucky PLEASE give him my love!!!"
So, we activated the phone tree: my mom called a woman at St. Joe's, and she called Father - I mean Bishop - Listecki, to let him know I would love to talk to him for a few minutes.
On Thursday, as I was getting ready for work, a Chicago area code popped up on my cell phone.
"Hi, is Bridget there? ... It's Bishop Listecki."
We talked about how long he was at St. Joe's (he helped out there on weekends for 19 years), about the Wise Men figurine story and the cell phone trick. I told him how I felt like he had a gift for making faith a real presence in people's lives, and he said that was his philosophy.
"People have to be fed with the word of God and the Eucharist," he said. "Faith is more than just coming to church on Sunday. It's living it every day."
I asked him what was different about serving people as a bishop (and soon archbishop).
"More people pay attention to me now," he said, laughing.
I asked him about a couple other stories I remembered. One was about the Chicago parish he had gone to after St. Joe's. When he started there, he found that the church needed a good cleaning. He told the parishioners he would be there Saturday with buckets and furniture polish. More than sixty people showed up to help, and when they finished, he told me, "I say this teasingly, it smelled like a convent."
The other was about when he went to visit a man in the hospital who was undergoing chemotherapy. The man asked him if he should give up, when enough was enough.
"I told him, ‘I don't think God's done with you yet,' " he said. The man had another year and a half of life, spending time with his daughter, Fr. Jerry said. It's a faith story that Fr. Jerry tells, because the man felt God was speaking through him.
There are different lenses you look through, he told me. There's the lens of the secular world, where you're here to live, work and die and that's it.
"Faith says we're here because God has us here for a particular reason," he said. "There's a whole different approach."
We did a little more catching up, and then it was time to go.
"God bless," Fr. Jerry said. "Bye."
Bridget Thoreson is online editor for The Journal Times.