An Interview with Father James Presta

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


Dr. Knight: In my grandson’s back yard is a statue of Mother Mary. He is 3, and he asks me what she is doing. He always hugs her! On a recent trip to the Seminary he had a rosary around his neck and said: “Mother Mary, I love you”. At 3 he seems drawn to her. What should people tell children about Mother Mary?


Father Presta: I would tell the children that Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of God. She loves us and prays for us. Mary was given an ordinary name with an extraordinary mission, to be the Mother of God. She was a special person who grew up in Israel, in a little town of Nazareth. Mary was Jesus’ Mother. Jesus loves his Mother and we do too!


Dr. Knight: You are the pastor of St. Emily’s what does that mean? In other words, what does being a pastor entail? Can you bring your devotion to the Blessed Mother to your parishioners?


Father Presta Whenever I celebrated a Mass in honor of our Blessed Mother at St. Emily’s, the teacher in me comes out and I enjoy speaking about how and special and unique her call was from Almighty God, to be the Mother of His only-begotten Son. I take every opportunity to remind my parishioners that Mary holds a special place in salvation history and the liturgical life of the Church. As the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #103 reminds us, that Mary has an “inseparable bond in the saving work of Her Son.” Therefore, our Blessed Mother is remembered especially throughout the liturgical year. I hope that my parishioners will see that Mary always leads us to a deeper relationship with her Divine Son.


Dr. Knight: How did you receive your call to be a priest? How has this call changed over time?


Father Presta: Certainly, my parents helped me to understand that our Catholic Faith was important to us as a family. They never missed Sunday Mass. Both of my parents prayed the rosary often. When I was young, my father wanted to be a priest. He hoped that one of his sons would become a priest. His dream came true on the day of my priesthood ordination: May 24, 1986. My call to the priesthood has deepened over the past 33 years. As a priest, I am called to be a spiritual father to the people whom I serve. Like any good father, I want to help people in their spiritual life, to show them that the path of holiness in this life will keep them on the road to heaven!


Dr. Knight: From presentations I’ve heard from you about Mother Mary, you have a strong devotion to her. Could you tell us what that means?


Father Presta: My devotion to Mary began when I was a child. It came from my parents. They fostered in all of my siblings a tender devotion to the Blessed Mother. I believe devotion to Mary helps us develop a strong love and relationship with her Divine Son. I often think of St. John Paul II’s description of praying the rosary: “to contemplate the face of Christ in the school of Mary.” Mary is our Mother, Queen, and Teacher. In her school, we learn about the saving work of Her Son.


Dr. Knight: How about an easy question: what is your favorite film about Mary at this time? Book?


Father Presta: I have two favorites: “The Song of Bernadette” and “Mary of Nazareth.” I believe the best book on Mary is “The Mystery of Mary,” by Father Haffner.


Dr. Knight: You taught Mariology at Mundelein Seminary? What did that course focus on?


Father Presta: My Mariology course at the Seminary covered all that the Church teaches about the Blessed Mother in Scripture, Church Fathers, Doctrines and Dogmas, Liturgy, Devotions, Marian prayers, and Marian Apparitions.


Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that the use of social media in our parishes can assist young people to think about knowing/loving/serving God through their ‘cyber-neighbor’? Do you have favorite YouTube’s about Mother Mary?


Father Presta: I refer you to Bishop Barron and Word on Fire. He has the best You Tubes on Mary. His “Catholicism” video on Mary is the best we have on social media that offers a complete and authentic understanding of Our Blessed Mother from a Catholic perspective.


Dr. Knight: As a pastor, you can educate and spiritually form many people in society through your work. What issues are predominantly on your mind and heart?


Father Presta: These days, my focus is to get people back to Church. The sexual abuse scandal has rocked the Church and robbed the faith (or the regular practice of it) from so many people. We need to get people back to the basics: that God loves them and cares for them. The Lord desires a relationship with all His People.


Dr. Knight: Mother Mary is the ‘go-to’ person for many Catholics. How did this devotion become so strong? influenced you the most?


Father Presta: Growing up, my father was a big influence on my love for Mary. In grammar school, my sixth-grade teacher, Sister Patricia Labuda, SSJ-TOSF taught me so much in terms of Marian devotion. My mentor in terms of academic education about Our Blessed Mother would be my teacher and good friend, Fr. Louis J. Cameli. When I was a student at Mundelein Seminary, I took my first course with him in Mariology titled, “Mary and the Saints.” Later Fr. Cameli became the director of my S.T.B. thesis. He was a great inspiration in helping me complete my S.T.L. degree (License in Sacred Theology) at Mundelein Seminary.


Dr. Knight: Art and Music that people have seen/heard/appreciated is about Mother Mary. What are some of your favorite pieces?.


Father Presta: My favorite art piece is the wooden statue I have in my office, “Mary, Queen of Families.” I purchased it in Oberammergau, Germany many years ago. I love the idea of Mary wrapping her maternal mantle around families. My favorite Marian hymn is, “O Sanctissima,” (“O Most Holy One”).


Dr. Knight: What other issues do you have as a priority for our work as a society regarding making devotion to her more predominant?


Father Presta In these past 33 years since my priestly ordination, I have served in many roles within the Archdiocese including Deacon, Associate Pastor, Vice-Rector, Rector-President, Pastor, Chair of the Priest Placement Board and member of the Presbyterial Council. I was given a firm foundation in the Catholic Faith by my wonderful parents. I love being Italian and sharing my heritage and culture with others. I have been blessed to have so many great friends in the priesthood and within the parishes where I have served. My love and devotion of the Blessed Mother have drawn me closer to Her Son, Jesus to whom I am configured as a priest. Mary always points the way to Jesus. The focus is never on Mary herself. Who better to teach us about Jesus than his Mother? I love our Blessed Mother. I love Holy Mother Church, despite the cloud of crisis and confusion that hangs over us these days. I am happy to be a priest of Jesus Christ, to serve in the Chicago Archdiocese and pray that I remain faithful all my days in the priestly ministry to which God has called me. I often ask our Blessed Mother to keep my priesthood wrapped in her maternal mantle of love, to keep me close to her Son, Jesus, the Eternal High Priest.


Dr. Knight: Thank you for doing this interview to help all of us understand your work better and to live a life in Communion with Christ while being devoted to Mother Mary.

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