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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Chester Jakala

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

Dr. Knight: Could you tell us about your background, where you came from, how you became a member of the parish? Do you have siblings?

Chester: I’m a first-generation Polish Catholic-parents John & Rose, legal immigrants, youngest of 3 sons. My 2 older brothers now married for 58 and 56 years! I grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, made famous in Uptown Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, lived in a patchwork quilt ethnic area, consisting of Poles, Germans, Irish, Italians & Lithuanians- each carried on one’s culture and languages, we all got along- I had a carefree, very happy youth- attended St John of God Parish and school mostly Polish, occupied an entire city block, housing a 1200 seat Romanesque Church with rose windows and 2 belfry towers, a rectory with 5 priests, a convent with 20 Felician CSSF nuns, and a modern K-8 grade school. A one-stop-shop-! (Sadly due to demographic changes, the beautiful church was taken down stone by stone and is now the new facade of St Raphael in Lake County, all else torn down.

I matriculated to Quigley South Prep Seminary, then on to Seminary College at Niles, affiliated with Loyola, graduated with a BA in 3 years, while there-befriended famous classmates Rev John Polan OSB Abbot Prior- stationed in Rome- & David Ives- Tony award-winning playwright-Served on student council with +Wilton Gregory-, +Listecki and +Paprocki ahead and behind me in the seminary.

I did graduate work at the University of Chicago – I have a degree in urban planning. Honored to work as a research intern on an ethnicity project with the famous Rev Andrew Greeley, a director at National Opinion research (NORC) center-he became a mentor-and advisor during my time away from seminary.

I was planning on joining my class at Mundelein Seminary after graduate work- but after much deliberate and careful thought and prayer, opted out of the seminary system. The call I heard was to be a faithful layman….the state of which at 23 was just unfolding---

I had the pleasure of meeting many a fine young lady, but marriage eluded me, living the single state. As a result, I found myself traveling the world, been to all continents except Antarctica, my business pursuits landed me in real estate syndication and I established a local realty office. I’m blessed with faithful long term associates.

I gravitated to the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago in 1979, where I still live, and joined the nearby Cathedral of the Holy Name- and became a lector, and later a Eucharistic minister.

Dr. Knight: Would you tell us something about your work in real estate? Can you bring your Catholic beliefs into this job?

Chester: I have been involved in many facets of realty, syndicator, rehabber, broker and manager. I love the industry, get to meet many different people of all cultures and ages, social classes. I think of myself as a “secular priest,” as I am welcomed into many a home or office , and more often than not will notice a St Joseph statue, (He really does work miracles), a crucifix, Guadalupe Virgin or framed Sacred Heart --- as well as Indian, Hindi (Ganesh), Jewish symbols- ( mezuzah on doorposts).

I proudly wear a miraculous medal, and more often than not, in casual conversation, a faith element will arise. And a sharing will take place- and a feel-good mood, a connectedness envelopes us. The shared consciousness of the Almighty in these many cases elevates the repartee. The Spirit is working among us- and is palpable to me. I have indeed made many surprising long term friendships from realty clients as well as had discussions with many about “our faith”. I’m here to say I’ve experienced and witnessed in my realty visits many an unheralded saint, living “other-oriented” lives despite illness, financial ruin, family conflicts.

Dr. Knight: You seem to have a gift about the future Church ? and the best way to bring Christ to others. Could you tell us about that?

Chester: One thought Regarding the future Church-the institution- I side with the Pope Benedict option- Due to ineffective catechesis and ecclesial leadership, our current church population is collapsing in Europe and the states, but growing in Africa…wonder why?... Grand Churches are now civic museums…. In the US, the church scandal has bankrupted many a diocese, and seminaries not flourishing.

In the US the Zeitgeist is leading the church, instead of the Church leading the zeitgeist….Catholic hospitals, universities, losing their “leaven” becoming just like the rest.

I suspect a great purging is happening, and as our history before- the “devoted survivors” will once again, begin to rebuild our Church.

Think France during the French revolution as an example… I’m attracted to people of faith, and I strive to be the “light” or ‘the salt” to the ever-increasing number of NONES-– I strive to be kind in behavior and speech, I try to listen carefully- and when an opening occurs, I share my faith----with surprising results… The largest population group- millennials- are mostly NONES- they demand authenticity, and do not want to be told what to do- oftentimes I hear that the Catholic church is a “NO” church, backward, not relevant.

I respond politely that Mother Church is like a strong River bank- making the waters flows strongly and with direction, otherwise without strong borders, weak, and still waters… the light goes on when I use this metaphor, At home or in my worldwide travels, I always marveled at the faith-filled strangers I met – and the universality of Catholicism. Whether in Poland, or Bangkok, I believe in Signs and Wonders- every day- things happen for a reason- God’ providence mystically at work.

I marvel at the faith of strangers in a quiet church whose doors were open, praying in a private area, not wanting to be seen. … or the happy disabled person, a dutifully faithful single mom or dad, or faithful parents who instilled vocations to their sons and daughters. Among my friends are parents of young priests and nuns- what a blessing. Often I’ll lector at the 6 am weekday Mass, and always impressed with the faithful attendance of the “early bird “worshippers, young and old- day traders, businessmen, even young couples, holding hands before going off to work, as well as elderly, worn and wrinkled, but strong and resilient in faith.

I’m unapologetically Catholic, with a Polish culture background in the mold of St JP2. Oftentimes I find my fellow residents in the high rise I live in-curious about my “church” participation- e.g. ( I met a young lady in the elevator a few years back- she asked what that black mark on my forehead was, I told her those were ashes, a sign I was going to die- and turn into that—when the elevator door opened- she ran out like the roadrunner- I suspect she never thought about death? A seed was planted in this twentysomething)

Best way to bring Christ to others- is to be a “Christopher”- a Christ-bearer--- an example of a loving, caring, HAPPY joy-filled person in love with the Lord.

Dr. Knight: As a lector at the Cathedral, what stands out for you?

Chester: I’m blessed with a “radio voice” – and the 1500 capacity at the cathedral gives me an interesting large diverse audience. These fellow faithful want to be fed with the word- and so I rehearse and I try to express the sentiments and the power of the Old and New testaments- I’ve also been honored to proclaim in Polish, on the internet, and local TV during televised Cathedral Masses-even read epistle in Polish at +Cupich Pallium Mass with politicos Madigan and Cullerton in front pews staring at me quizzically. (I wonder if they understand Gaelic) I’m frequently honored to have people come up to me and thank me for my presentation and delivery. I tell them it’s a gift from God- ad majorem dei gloriam.

Dr. Knight: Do societal changes effect/affect the devotion to the Eucharist?

Chester: Absolutely, gone is the emphasis on the Eucharist being the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of Christ, and a sublime gift to receive ONLY in the state of grace.

Now due to secular P.C pressures, the Eucharist is “an aspirin” for healing, come one, come all, no matter.

It has become more symbolic- anyone can receive- even those scandalous Catholic legislators – and hypocritical clerics of various ranks.

Modernism has deemphasized the “awesomeness of the Eucharist” – Tabernacles in most modern churches are in a side “closet” hard to find.

May the Bread OF Angels be prominently displayed in tabernacles, and heavenly reception is hallowed.

Dr. Knight: What influences do you see manifest that keep people away from Christ and His Church?

Chester: Sadly, currently. it is the hypocrisy of the episcopate, nationally and in the Vatican- the cover-ups, the hush monies, the failure even now to come clean about all the issues that arose with that ugly McCarrick scandal- The JP2 Institute of Family Living in the Vatican being recalibrated to suit the times? The Vatican deal on the China Church? I am embarrassed at the almost daily scandals made public and equally dismayed that immediate punishment Is not meted out to make amends for the irreparable harm done.

As Paul VI- had intimated, the smoke of the devil has infiltrated – there is a dynamic struggle going on- it’s palpable- even my ancestral Polish Catholic church has been rocked with filth and cover-ups- This cancer needs to be extricated and soon- as all of us, especially the youth, want authenticity.

I pray for this scandal to be handled properly, and expeditiously, please God- Restore the Sacred- and boldly teach the truth, in and out of season.

Let not the zeitgeist lead the church, the Church should be the lighthouse forming the zeitgeist-- safe harbor... Truth will make us free.

Dr. Knight: How is the Catholic Church helping young people to stay connected to Christ and His Church?

Chester: There has been an explosion of web sites, internet sources, blogs, world youth day, My favorite Cable station is EWTN- FOCUS- campus ministries- Close friend of mine- father of 2 sons attending U of I school of engineering at Champaign Urbana- tells me how impressive the Newman Chapel is – Sunday masses have overflow crowds- homilies a bit more conservative, yet attracting these bright students. Surprisingly, here at home in Chicago, a very secular city by any measure, at the local “traditional” St John Cantius Church, 1 mile west of the cathedral- you’ll note young adults and young well-dressed families with children attending a Tridentine High Mass with Gregorian Hymns… the ad orientem Mass is a thing of sublime beauty---emphasis on the worship of the Almighty, not the choreography, the personality of a presider. Another example of Restoring the Sacred. When the beauty of Church music, art, liturgical practices such as 40 hr devotion, perpetual adoration, novenas, Marian processions, are witnessed, brings a big smile on my face. –and the youth will be enticed, and take notice.

On a recent trip to wine country- passing thru San Francisco, a few blocks away from Haight-Ashbury, the epicenter of the 60’s hippie- free love movement, there is a small chapel run by a cloistered order of nuns, the perpetual adorers, who have the Eucharistic Lord exposed daily---I was surprised to see many a “Millennial” at prayer in God’s ’House – blocks from ground zero of the 60’s revolution….Amazing—isn’t it? ..or better Providential! Youth like authenticity- so do the rest of us.

Dr. Knight: How do you see the people of Holy Name working on Evangelization? Did your experiences at other places help this?

Chester: Holy Name Cathedral is a busy place, and their outreach is phenomenal, so many ministries, a beehive of evangelization. Wish I had more time to devote myself to more than my liturgical participation. I would add one more thing- regarding liturgical life, I’d love to see more restoration of the sacred- bring back the Mozart Requiem on All Souls day- return the lost 40-hour devotion with a solemn procession- our Catholic history is so rich! Bring back the sacred, in liturgy …and glorious music.

Dr. Knight: What makes a good homily for you so that the priest connects with the congregation, what particular strategies come to mind in this regard?

Chester: A good homily is like a good meal- I want to be fed healthy food, and leave satisfied- and even that bitter kale of a sermon, revitalizes and challenges our anesthetized souls in this chaotic time we live in. The Eucharist is our precious sweet desert, but the Word, when homilized by Priest and deacons, should contain those elements of vitamins and proteins we need to fuel our souls in need of invigoration.

I’d prefer to hear homilies with more doctrine, the last four things, the wiles of the devil, the beauty of sacramental marriage, pro-life, morality, lives of the saints ---- I’d like to hear the delivery style more of a +Bishop Sheen or a +Barron, Rev George Rutler, Brian Mullady OP, Dr. Anthony Esolen- ( Catholic apologist, professor).

I suspect homiletics classes are teaching future priests to be “middle of the road “preachers- like the TV prosperity evangelists- I say- those of us in the pews are not stupid, we want to be challenged, and homilists should NOT be afraid to talk about vice, and virtue, and why the commandments are important, the last four things, death, judgment, heaven, hell- ( when’s the last time you heard that?) "Whoever does not hate error, does not love the truth". - G.K. Chesterton

Dr. Knight: What are the most difficult responsibilities you have had In your chosen vocation? What are some of the most pleasant responsibilities?

Chester: Regarding difficulties, As a faithful Catholic single male, having a very wide social circle of all shapes and sizes, I am tempted in thought, word, and deed., and I monthly need the grace of an examen and good confession to work on my faults. I’m grateful for having good confessors.

I oftentimes find myself in conversation with NONES and ex Catholics, who have buried or never discovered “that Pearl of great price.”

Due to the chaotic current “culture wars”’, I feel like an alien, I do not belong, and I experience a healthy inner tension- lately even within my Church.

When starting my strong beliefs, I can be labeled “judgmental”, or “too conservative”…

Sadly, some long-time friendships are becoming sour, a few have terminated.

Regarding Pleasant responsibilities- paradoxical as it may sound, not having a traditional family- I’ve had the free time and opportunity to develop powerful friendships here and abroad over these years- and it keeps on developing- I do not feel alone- My proverbial “dance card” of friendships is full. Even now, I’m amazed at the new acquaintances and friends –including this interviewer- I find myself more drawn to those who have “God-like “qualities. That puts a big smile on my face---Borrowing a term that belongs to Hans Urs von Balthasar, I meditate on my life as a “Theo-drama,” a play in which I’m an actor, bringing his talents and sometimes improvisation to the stage of the world, lending my role to the Divine director’s ends. Signs and wonders abound.

Dr. Knight: What mantra do you have that you would like people to remember?

Chester: My favorites from others-

Mother Teresa - “Grow where you are planted”

Christopher’s "It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness".

GK Chesterton – "Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out." "Tolerance is the virtue of man without convictions."

this one is cryptic- but speaks to me-, “truth standing on its head to gain attention.” And if the truth is standing on its head, then to see it clearly, we need to stand on our heads, to turn our worldview upside down, to come out of our cave walking on our hands and see the world hanging upside down.

Lastly- I’m big on noticing daily “SIGNS and WONDERS” – The Divine intervenes in myriad ways- I’m always on the lookout- for things that happen- the way they do- inexplicably, call it Divine Providence. The Spirit moving like the wind----we don’t know from where or why- My mantra now is “Restore the Sacred” and Truth is eternal-- The truth is like a lion you don’t have to defend it- let it loose, and it will defend itself- Augustine.

Dr. Knight: What other issues would you like to bring up about being a Gospel person in the world today?

Chester: Sadly, we live in a culture that is palpably losing the battle of Judeo Christian mores-Persons of faith vilified, family life under major siege and respect for life legally being buried alive by so-called Catholic legislators. And our shepherds have lost their crooks, are afraid to protect their flocks! I pray earnestly that we laypersons will engage in doing the necessary things our church leaders have forgotten. Like a Joan of Arc- Thomas More- To tend to our roots- our foundations- to be the catalyst to get our Church leaders to get their act together to remove the current scandalous cancer- and I pray intensely for a modern version of + John Fisher, and our beloved Saint John Paul II


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