By Gordon Nary
Gordon: Congratulations of the 75th anniversary of St. Theresa Parish. When were you appointed pastor of St. Theresa Parish, and approximately how many parishioners do you and your staff serve?
Father Tim: I began my ministry at St. Theresa on July 1, 2013. St. Theresa currently has around 3600 registered families, or about 10,000 people.
Gordon: For our readers who may not be aware of your background, here is an article about you by Dolores Madlener a few years ago where you were pastor of St. Bede’s Do you still have time for photography?
Father Tim: Photography is my hobby and passion. I love trying to capture the beauty of nature. Plus it reminds me of all the wonderful places I’ve been blessed to have traveled over the years. I have a goal of visiting as many National Parks in our country as possible. I think I’ve been to around 34 of the 60-some parks. I’ve also visited 49 of our 50 states, Alabama being the final frontier for me! God’s awesome creation continues to amaze me. I wish more people would take advantage of our National Park system and the natural beauty of the United States.
Gordon: It is rare to find a parish that has a published master plan for its future. What was the inspiration for the plan?
Father Tim: The plan began with the parishioners of St. Theresa. When I started my ministry here, several of my advisory boards let me know that there were some concerns about the campus and its buildings. One of their major issues centered around our school building, which flooded so often when it rained (for various reasons) that the lower level was not able to be occupied to its fullest. At the same time, every parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago was being asked to participate in the “To Teach Who Christ Is” capital campaign. Since St. Theresa’s wave of participation was due at that time it made sense to further the conversation on a master plan to address construction needs for the future of the parish. The Master Plan is a two phase plan with the first phase concluding in a few months and the second phase set to begin after Memorial Day, 2017. If we are able to reach our goal on fundraising, most of the campus will be updated and ready to go for the next several years.
Gordon: St. Theresa Parish provides an exceptional number of educational programs on a variety of topics for your parishioners. On average, how many people attend these events and how do you track their responses to these programs?
Father Tim: I’m not sure we offer any more opportunities than any other parish, but we are trying to do more. People respond to these opportunities in their own ways. Some events are more popular than others, so it’s really hard to “average” an attendance. A few years ago we started a “Soup and Spirituality” series that featured a simple soup and bread meal, followed by a presentation /discussion on one of Bishop Barron’s video series. This Lent we will continue that series with his latest offering, “The Pivotal Players.” The series takes place on Thursdays during Lent. It started out with a smaller crowd, but our hope is that it will continue to grow. We are very excited that noted Catholic evangelist Matthew Kelly is coming to St. Theresa on Sunday, June 11th. We are hoping our 1,000 seat church will be filled! We track these programs by observing attendance and occasionally asking people what they would want in an adult education opportunity. Our Parish Transformation Plan also identifies addressing of educational needs through surveys and evaluation of programs.
Gordon: What in your experience have been some of the greatest challenges in evangelization in today’s society when an increasing number of Christians are turning away from their faith?
Father Tim: The late Francis Cardinal George frequently observed that the secularization of this country is one of its greatest challenges in bringing people to the faith and I agree. Many children are not taught either by word or example that their faith is important to them. It becomes incredibly difficult then to nurture a faith that is not sustained within the family structure. Other things have taken priority. I remember when I was young very little was open on Sundays which lessened the competition for attention among Mass-going people. Now, more and more venues are open on Sundays and even the religious holidays, like Christmas and Easter. I don’t know if it’s so much people turning away from their faith as it is they aren’t being exposed enough to it to turn away. Yet I am still optimistic that the future holds hope. We as a Church need to help families recognize the gift of faith that is in each of them and help them develop that gift. There are so many good stories of young people tapping into that storehouse of faith. Evangelization is connecting people to those stories so that they can see the potential that is within them.
Gordon: What in your opinion are some of the benefits and challenges of using social media as an evangelization tool?
Father Tim: The greatest benefit of using social media is that is how young people communicate with each other. I remember at my previous parish we were asked to host “Theology on Tap,” a young adult speaker series. I corralled about five young adults to help market the series and they decided to focus their advertising on social media. The first night we had over 20 people come to “Theology on Tap,” which was a good number for the parish. When asked how they heard about the event almost every single one of them said they saw it on Facebook. The challenge for old guys like me is learning how to use social media and keeping up with the latest and greatest ways people are discovering through social media to connect with one another.
Gordon: We appreciate the opportunity of sharing your insights with our readers as well as a few of your beautiful photos below.