Three Salesian priests coming to serve in Champaign area

By: By Jennifer Willems, The Catholic Post

CHAMPAIGN — There’s something about this city and the followers of St. John Bosco that just seem to go together.

This summer three Salesian priests will take up residence at Holy Cross Church in Champaign to serve as pastor and parochial vicar, help with Spanish Masses at St. Malachy’s in Rantoul, and serve as assistant chaplain at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. No names were available at press time since the details of the appointments had not been formalized between Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and Father Thomas Dunne, SDB, provincial of the Province of St. Philip the Apostle of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

Father Stephen Willard, the current pastor of Holy Cross, has been named pastor of St. Patrick’s in Washington and St. Monica’s in East Peoria. The changes take effect July 1.

The Salesian priests will join the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco, who came to St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois two years ago, in spreading their patron’s care for the education and spiritual well-being of young people, devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother as Mary, Help of Christians, and concern for immigrants throughout central Illinois.

“I was very impressed with the way Bishop Jenky formulated this invitation,” Father Thomas told The Catholic Post. “It was drafted in such a way that it was easy for us to live in community while doing a varied ministry that is needed and appreciated. . . . Bishop Jenky, being a religious, understands that. It is a great gift.”

That conversation started when the Salesian priests were planning a visit to the Salesian Sisters in Champaign as part of a trip to St. John Bosco Parish in Chicago. A couple of the priests participated in St. John Bosco Day at the Newman Center and the community found a great advocate and supporter of Don Bosco’s spirituality and philosophy in Msgr. Greg Ketcham, head chaplain and director.

Father Thomas said they met with Msgr. James Kruse, vicar general, and Patricia Gibson, chancellor for the Diocese of Peoria, in September and received an invitation to send Salesian priests for pastoral service in Champaign in November.

“Our charism is that of serving the young and a spirituality that is rooted in life. That is something we would certainly look forward to contributing,” Father Thomas said.

He added that campus ministry is done very, very well at St. John’s and they look forward to learning how to mold the faith of young adults in a community setting.

“In the past we have defined young people more in terms of teenagers. Lately we’ve been made aware that there is a great need and gift in serving young adults and young families as well,” Father Thomas explained.

“That combination of ministries there in Champaign can help us move in that direction in a way that is integral to the church in that area,” he said. “It’s something we would come at with a great deal of energy.”

As for Holy Cross Parish, Father Thomas said he would advise the new pastor to keep doing what Father Willard has done.

“From everything I’ve heard it’s a wonderful parish. The Sisters have gone there to worship frequently and have said nothing but the best,” according to Father Thomas. “It’s not going to be our parish, but a parish of the diocese. We’re there to serve.”

Based in New Rochelle, N.Y., the Province of St. Philip the Apostle of the Salesians of Don Bosco covers the eastern United States and all of Canada. There are 160 members serving in schools, including five high schools, as well as youth centers, a retreat center and 18 parishes.

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