‘Distinguished’ Monmouth pastor offers enrollment to every child who wants it

Msgr. Thomas Mack makes it a point to visit Immaculate Conception School, Monmouth, several times each day. Just being present to the principal, faculty and staff, and students is important, he said. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

MONMOUTH — While his official title is pastor, Msgr. Thomas Mack notes that he’s also a pretty good “horse trader” when it comes to getting students enrolled at Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth.

“Don’t ever tell me you can’t afford Catholic education. I’ll get you in here. We’ll horse trade some deal, but we’ll get you in here. I want all of our kids to have the opportunity.”

Msgr. Thomas Mack

“Don’t ever tell me you can’t afford Catholic education. I’ll get you in here,” he told The Catholic Post during a recent visit. “We’ll horse trade some deal, but we’ll get you in here. I want all of our kids to have the opportunity. If they choose to come, I want them to come.”

For his leadership and support of Catholic schools, he has been named the Office of Catholic Schools’ Distinguished Pastor for 2017-18. He will be recognized at a Mass and luncheon on May 9, along with Connie Lake of Sts. Peter and Paul School, Nauvoo, Distinguished Teacher, and Maureen Bentley of St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peoria Heights, Distinguished Principal.

“Msgr. Mack is the pastor that every Catholic school should have and needs,” said Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria. “Truthfully, I look to him as the best example of priestly leadership in our schools.”

She said Msgr. Mack’s experience has given him wisdom. Weiss added that his willingness to listen gives Randy Frakes, principal, and the teachers, staff, students and families of Immaculate Conception School confidence in his decision-making.

“But most of all, he is faithful to our bishop’s vision for our diocesan schools and to the evangelizing mission that must be first and foremost in what we do,” she said. “I am extremely grateful for his priestly ministry in our Catholic schools.”

JUST BEING THERE

That preparation began at St. Ambrose University, where Msgr. Mack studied philosophy and took courses in education. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history, he went on to St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he completed his studies for the priesthood.

Each year the seminarians spent the month of January gaining experience in a different ministry, and during their second year of theology that meant teaching in a Catholic school. Msgr. Mack worked with the third-graders at Epiphany Parish in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

Following his ordination by Bishop Edward W. O’Rourke on May 27, 1978, Msgr. Mack would be known as “the school priest” at his first few parish assignments. In addition to teaching, celebrating school Masses, and serving as athletic director, he learned several important lessons.

Chief among them was the need to be present — to the principal, to the teachers, and to the students. That lesson, learned from Father John Naab at St. Malachy in Geneseo, continues to inform his ministry today.

“Every day I walk up and down the hallways two or three times and stop and say ‘Hi’ to the kids,” Msgr. Mack said. “I have lunch when they have lunch. I try to make as many basketball games and volleyball games as I can get to.”

He and Father Tom Otto, parochial vicar, celebrate school Masses and hear confessions on a rotating schedule, but Msgr. Mack reserves a few things, such as the pet blessing each October, for himself.

A SHARED VISION

A strong pastor-principal relationship is also vital, he told The Post. He and Frakes meet every day, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee.

“You have to have a shared vision,” Msgr. Mack said. “There has to be a level of trust. You also have to let the principal know you have his or her back.”

That allows the principal to spread his or her wings, he explained.

Right now, pastor and principal share a vision of making Immaculate Conception School a place where the Hispanic, African and Chin (Myanmar) immigrants can find support and success.

“I want to be part of their American dream,” Msgr. Mack said. “When they’re adults, I want them to be able to look back and say, ‘ICS was there and helped me achieve what I wanted to achieve.’”

In addition to his ministry at the Monmouth parish, Msgr. Mack is pastor at St. Patrick in Raritan and St. Theresa in Alexis, and serves as episcopal vicar for rural life in the Diocese of Peoria. He and Father Otto are co-chaplains at the St. Augustine Newman Center at Monmouth College.

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