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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A doozy with the "heart of a shepherd" – Fr. Jack Dewes

Sunday's 11:00 a.m. mass for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time will have another layer of celebration added to it: our pastor from 1989-2009, Fr. Jack Dewes, will be celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest. Retired in 2009, he lives and works at St. Anne as pastor emeritus. This mass allows the parish to honor God’s work in him for five decades as a priest, almost half of that in Barrington, and his cooperation with grace in the meantime.

It was no small accomplishment to shepherd St. Anne into the 21st century. The growing “bedroom community,” on a Metra stop on the Northwest Line out of Chicago, was worshipping in a country church built in 1950, which was the 2nd or 3rd church built for the parish. Once a parish of a few hundred Catholics in a largely rural Methodist community, St. Anne’s has grown to a size of nearly 3,000 households. As it approached 1,500 and then 2,000, it became clear than no number of masses celebrated in a little stone church seating 350 was going to be enough on Sunday. Early in his tenure, with the counsel and collaboration of my liturgist friends and colleagues Courtney Murtaugh and Clem Aseron, the parish moved its contemporary celebrations to the Dillon Center across the street from the church, which doubled as the school gym. Capturing the spirit of the Eucharist in its ancient and new depth, they arranged the gym for worship with antiphonal seating, with the portable altar and ambo along a central axis, and the seven hundred or so chairs arranged facing those foci from either side. 

A side benefit of the gym was that, unlike the church, it was air conditioned, a welcome relief in the often sultry Illinois summer. With five weekend services, three were in the gym during the summer, two in the winter, with the others celebrated in the “old” church. With a different building and even a street separating them, the two worshipping communities grew more settled in distinctive worship styles, one based on the pipe organ (a small but serviceable Möhler), one based in the ensemble, though one organ mass was celebrated in the gym on the mighty Conn.

In what was to become one of the ten or so best things that ever happened to me, in 1993, the music director went seeking greener pastures. I had asked Mary Prete, then the owner of Alverno Religious Books in Chicago and a friend and fellow road warrior, to keep her ears open for possible good fits for me in the area. My friend and classmate Bill Fraher had found a perfect fit at Old St. Pat’s in downtown Chicago, so why not me? As it turned out, she and Courtney spoke, and at the 1993 NPM Convention in St. Louis, I was unexpected greeted by Courtney’s southern smile after a GIA showcase. “Hi, I’m Courtney Murtaugh,” she said, handing me a packet of information about the parish, including their bulletin. “We hear you’re looking for a job, and we’re looking for a music director.” A month later, Jack Dewes picked me up and O’Hare, and I was interviewed by several staff members and him. At the end of it, we all felt pretty comfortable, but I told them that I couldn’t make a commitment until after Christmas, four months down the road. Jack said to me, “If you want the job, we’ll keep it open for you.” And they did, and here I am. I’m a lucky guy, and just let me say that this is proof that Jack lived his life open to divine inspiration. ☺ Or some kind of inspiration, but it was divine to me.

What I didn’t know then was that this inner circle was already planning in an indirect way for a stunning project: the building of a new home to remedy this community's divided worship. In the next three or four years, the plan would gain a new concreteness and then blueprints, guided by Jack’s vision and the expertise of local liturgical consultant and artist John Buscemi. The result, $17,000,000 later, is the church that is St. Anne, a completely reimagined and restored daily mass chapel built from the old church, and a gutted and modernized pre-K through 8 school. Of that $17,000,000, fifteen years after the dedication of the building, less than $1M remains to be repaid, thanks both to the generosity of the local community and the tireless efforts of Jack and his circle (and those of his successor, Fr. Bernie Pietrzak and his finance people and staff) to raise the funds. 

St. Anne Parish logo and motto, in gathering space tile.

It wasn’t easy. A tremendous amount of resistance grew up to the idea of expanding the church at all, let alone expanding it into a “modern” (of course, it’s not modern at all) antiphonal design with a separate daily mass and reservation chapel. Letters were mailed, some anonymous, some using stolen parish mailing lists, decrying Fr. Jack’s work and the plan to “ruin” St. Anne’s. People left. People stopped supporting the parish. But he saw it through those painful months, and the building project flourished. The plan was approved by Cardinal Bernadin, but he died before the building was completed, and the new Church was dedicated on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, 2000. It was April 30, which happened to be Jack’s ordination anniversary as well.

Jack’s style is like a lot of Chicago priests, liturgically speaking, tending toward the familiar and loose around the edges. But it is always prayerful and inviting, and his personable and generous way come naturally to him. He is fond of theater and music, and these passions come through in his public style. Interwoven for a generation in the lives of Barrington Catholics, he has come to place where he is now marrying couples whom he baptized or gave first communion to in his first years in the parish. His hospitable instincts and style have become the trademark of the community. Committed to all four pillars of the apostolic tradition, St. Anne’s has put its money where it's liturgical mouth is in catechesis, worship, social justice, and community building, and all of this because of the ministry of Fr. Jack and his inspiration of thousands of others.

So we will gather for Eucharist and be thankful this Sunday, me as much as anyone for this man who hired me over twenty-one years ago and made me a part of this little piece of the mission of the Church, and made it possible for me to support my family even though money was always tight for everybody. For Jack’s 40th anniversary of ordination, I wrote and arranged the song “Heart of a Shepherd,” since published by GIA Publications. Like the church he built, “Heart” is a bit of the old and the new, combining the ancient text of Psalm 23 with Père Joseph Gelineau’s early 1960s setting of the verses with an original refrain taken from the Easter gospel in which the risen Lord instructs Peter, “If you love me, feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” “And for my part,” I have added with a bit of
poetic license, “I give you the heart of a shepherd.” This is the essence of the man we have all grown to love over the years, and who we all hope will have a long and active and joyful retirement. Never were the words of a gospel so appropriately to be proclaimed at a priest’s retirement mass: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He’s the servant who is pouring the scotch and singing Rodgers and Hammerstein; he’s the servant at the hospital, the funeral home, the wedding, the baptism, and Sunday after Sunday a thousand times.
Ecce, sacerdos magnus qui in diebus suis placuit Deo. Ideo, jurejurando, fecit illum Dominus crescere in plebem suam.
In the vernacular: Now, there is a great priest who in his life made God happy. Therefore, by a solemn promise, God made him flourish among his people. That antiphon, cobbled together from a couple of Sirach texts for the common mass of a bishop and confessor, is generally associated with a bishop, but I think its sentiment works fine for him. I wouldn't embarrass him by actually singing it on Sunday, lest someone remove the mitre and crozier from his private costumery and make him bishop by popular acclamation. There are those among his friends, I must say, past whom it I would not put. ☺

Ad multos annos, Jack. 

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