Dispensing hope may be the most important ministry for pastors of inner city parishes. Father Bob Kelly, SVD, former rector at Divine Word College, grew up on the south side of Chicago, studied at Loyola University and found out about the SVD while student teaching at St. Anselm’s, a south side parish of the Chicago Archdiocese. The SVD has provided priests and brothers there since the 1930s. A year after graduating, he entered SVD formation and worked at St. Anselm’s as a seminarian. That was 1979. Nearly 40- years later, Fr. Bob returned to the parish and is now pastor there along with nearby St. Elizabeth’s.
“We have two aging communities of faith, which struggle on a monthly basis to make ends meet,” he said. “And violence surrounds us on a regular basis.”
Gangs and drugs are a root cause, fueled by poverty made worse by the lack of jobs and investment. Regentrification, where old apartments are restored or torn down and replaced by new ones, drives up costs and taxes. The former St. Anselm’s school is being rented as a public school system charter school while the former St. Elizabeth school building is now a job training center.
On the upside, rent from the charter-school provides funds for St. Anselm’s, which has opened an after school program and a food pantry at St. Elizabeth helps to fight hunger in the local neighborhoods. There are daily Masses at St. Anselm and one on Sunday at both parishes. Both parishes collaborate with the archdiocese, other clergy and the police to find ways to reduce violence. But it is a day-to-day struggle for the people.
“I truly believe this is where I have been called to serve,” Fr. Bob said. “For me, the important thing is to serve the people in any way I can, listening to their stories, empowering them and giving them hope, daily doses of hope.”
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