Letters from Fr. Francis

January 29, 2023 - Catholic Schools Week
 
This week the Archdiocese of Chicago is celebrating Catholic Schools Week.  We should all be proud of our parish school.  Dr. Mullens and our dedicated faculty and staff do an outstanding job educating our children and passing on our Catholic faith.
 
Our teachers continually strive for excellence in the classroom with their students and in their own professional development.  Dr. Mullens routinely brings in educational professionals to lead development days for our teachers.  And many of our teachers continue their education and pursue additional degrees and certifications to enhance their classroom skills and expand their expertise in the subjects they teach.
 
Thanks to their hard work and dedication, we were the first school in the Archdiocese of Chicago to receive two Blue Ribbon Awards for excellence in education.  I know Dr. Mullens will be working with the teachers and school community to pursue a third blue ribbon in the coming years.
 
I hope you all know how proud I am to have been the pastor of St. Josaphat School.  I believe passing on our Christian faith to our children is one of the greatest responsibilities we have as disciples.  Dr. Mullens and I, along with the entire faculty and staff, are deeply honored and humbled that you have entrusted your children to our care.  It is a privilege to assist you in forming your children in the Catholic faith and to help them become the extraordinary men and women God is calling them to be.
 
Our students already demonstrate great compassion and try their best to serve others as Christ taught us.  I see it when I visit their classrooms; I witness it by the way they treat one another on the playground; and I have observed it through their efforts to raise money, collect donations and actively serve the neediest members of our local community.  
 
We should all be very proud of our Catholic school.  I hope you will join us in celebrating St. Josaphat School this weekend and throughout the week.  Please keep our students, faculty and staff in your prayers as they continue on through the remainder of the school year.  And help us spread the word about St. Josaphat School to your friends and neighbors who might be looking for a school for their children.
 
God Bless,                          
Fr. Francis
Dear Brothers & Sisters,

I am looking forward to celebrating this year’s Unity Gala with all of you! I would like to thank our Chair Faye Shillair, and the entire Unity Gala Committee, who have been doing a wonderful job bringing this event together. As you know, our Unity Gala will be held Friday, February 24 at 7 pm at Rockwell on the River. I encourage you to purchase your tickets on our website. Sponsorships are also still available.

We are still accepting donations for our auction. Please consider donating sports or concert tickets, vacation homes or other items (see page 6 for more info). I have donated a couple of items to the auction: I will be hosting three people to golf with me at Butterfield Country Club, caddies and lunch included. I’m also offering an opportunity for three junior golfers to come golfing with me at Sydney Marovitz golf course and enjoy some on-course tips on how to improve their game. You will be able to bid on these items and more during the online auction, accessible through our home page from Friday, February 14 through Thursday, February 20. 

Buying a Golden Raffle ticket is another way to support the event if you cannot attend. Only 200 tickets are sold, so you have a 1 in 200 chance of winning $2,500! Golden Raffle tickets can be purchased on the Unity Gala website.
Finally, as you know, our Unity Gala also offers financial support to people and organizations that exemplify the spirit of bringing people together and making the Gospel present. This year we will present the Unity Award to Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. You can meet representatives from this worthy organization at the Unity Gala where we will present them with our Unity Award and a $10,000 check.

I hope to see all of you at our Unity Gala!

God Bless,
Fr. Francis
Dear Parishioners,
 
In the Archdiocese of Chicago, pastors are assigned to a parish for a term of six years. At the end of the six-year assignment, the Cardinal can renew the pastor for an additional six years or ask the priest to take on a new assignment. This year marks the end of my six-year term at St. Josaphat, and Cardinal Cupich has asked me to take on a new assignment.  
 
My term as pastor will officially end on August 1st. I will spend the next year attending Boston College School of Theology and Ministry to obtain a Masters degree in Spirituality Studies. When I finish my degree, I will then be assigned to the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary to serve on the Formation Faculty to help form our future priests.
 
As you can imagine, news of this new assignment brings a range of emotion for me. First and foremost, I am filled with immense gratitude for the wonderful six years I have enjoyed here as Pastor of St. Josaphat Parish. This has been, without question, the best six years of my priesthood! I have loved serving as your pastor and sharing my faith with all of you.
 
You are a kind, compassionate and generous community. I am deeply grateful for your friendship and I am proud of all of the things we have accomplished together. We were able to finish our capital campaign and address the much needed repairs of our buildings; we eliminated $5 million dollars of parish debt and are financially stable; we have invested in our teachers by establishing a teacher retention fund; we have made the youth of our parish a priority by hiring a full-time Director of Faith Formation; and we have significantly improved our evangelization efforts with our Alpha Course, Marriage Course and Following Jesus series. 
 
While I am certainly sad to be leaving St. Josaphat, I am also honored to be asked by Fr. John Kartje, the Rector of Mundelein Seminary, and Cardinal Cupich to join the Formation Faculty at the seminary and to be entrusted with the formation of our future priests. I believe that seminary formation is an immensely important ministry. Our seminarians need to be formed by priests who love their priesthood, who have been successful as pastors and who have a genuine interest in the future of the Church.
 
As many of you know, I have been heavily involved in seminary formation throughout my priesthood. I was the Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Chicago for four years prior to becoming the Pastor of St. Josaphat. And while I have been the pastor, I have continued to be involved in various aspects of seminarian formation. 
For the past six years, St. Josaphat has been a teaching parish for the seminary. And I have served as a mentor to the seminarians assigned to us. Our past seminarians include: Fr. Arthur Bautista, Fr. Nathan Resila, Andres Rojas and Theo McMannigal.  
 
I also serve as a Spiritual Director for several men in the seminary. This year I have been co-teaching a class on Catholic Spirituality to first-year seminarians. Teaching a course on Catholic Spirituality and my work as a Spiritual Director has been something I have greatly enjoyed. In fact, it’s precisely for my work in both of these areas that I have been asked by the Cardinal to take on my new assignment at Mundelein Seminary.
 
Since I will be ending my term as Pastor of St. Josaphat Parish on August 1st, 2023, a new Pastor has been assigned to succeed me. I am very happy to report that Cardinal Cupich has assigned Fr. Carlos Rodriguez to be my successor, and he will begin his assignment as the Pastor of St. Josaphat Parish on July 1st. This will give us the opportunity to overlap for a few weeks as I hand over the reins to him.
 
I am extremely happy that Fr. Carlos will be my successor—he is one of my best friends in the priesthood! I have known Fr. Carlos for almost 15 years. We have been in several prayer groups together. I had the opportunity to minister alongside him when he was the Associate Pastor of St. Michael’s in Orland Park. And I have also worked very closely with Fr. Carlos these past 10 years while he served in seminary formation at Mundelein Seminary. Fr. Carlos is an exceptional priest! I am supremely confident that you will love having him as your new pastor!
 
However, until Fr. Carlos arrives on July 1st, I am still your pastor and I fully intend to keep on working and ministering until the very last day that I am here. When I hand off the parish to Fr. Carlos, I want to make sure it is in the best shape possible. Please keep Fr. Carlos and I in your prayers as we prepare to transition into our new roles.
I look forward to making the most of every minute we have together, from now until August 1st!
 
God Bless,
Fr. Francis
_____________

From Fr. Carlos Rodriguez:
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,Fr Carlos
 
It is always difficult to receive news that a beloved pastor is moving on, especially when that pastor is such a gifted and good priest as Fr. Francis Bitterman. So, I would like to begin by acknowledging that I cannot replace him in your heart. I do however hope to succeed and honor him, by trying to continue in the work of growing the parish on the excellent foundations that you and Fr. Bitterman have already begun. I look forward to working with you on this together.
 
Some background info on me may help to alleviate your worries concerning this transition in July.
 
From my last name, you can easily surmise that I am of Hispanic descent. In particular, I am only 1 of 4 priests in the diocese that is ethnically Puerto Rican. However, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, so I can neither claim I am a native of Puerto Rico, nor a Chicagoan for that matter. I am what is sometimes referred to as a Nuyorican really…which means I have the friendly disposition and love of fun that most island-born Puerto Ricans exhibit, with the saucy nature of an east coaster. I believe I am the first Latino priest to serve St. Josaphat, so how this will turn out is anyone’s guess. I’m an optimist by nature, so I’m already pretty positive about our future together.
 
I joined the U.S. Army Reserves right out of high school to help pay for my college studies, and was trained as a combat medic/medical specialist and physical therapy assistant. I went on to get my Physical Therapy degree from S.U.N.Y HSC Brooklyn in 2006 and practiced in multiple hospitals and clinics for many years. I initially came to Chicago because I entered seminary with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and they wanted me to attend CTU in Hyde Park. But after 3 years, health reasons made it impossible for me to serve as a missionary overseas, so I decided to leave. I returned to working as a PT, while remaining in Chicago and eventually found a home at St. Alphonsus parish. It was while worshiping and helping Fr. Jim Hurlbert there with RCIA that I realized I still had a vocation to the priesthood, and I applied to the Archdiocese in 2007. I was subsequently ordained to the diaconate in 2009 and the priesthood in 2010 by the late Cardinal Francis George.
 
I served as the associate pastor at St. Michael's Parish in Orland Park for 3 years and was then invited by Fr. Barron (now Bishop Barron) to come on to the formation faculty at Mundelein Seminary in 2013. I have served at the seminary for the past 10 years as an Associate Dean of Formation, Director of Spiritual Life and most recently as the Director of Counseling Services (which required me to go to night school and get an MS in Clinical Counseling). I have also helped out at multiple parishes in that time for weekend coverage of masses and other sacraments (St. Bede, Our Lady of Grace, Most Blessed Trinity, St. Raphael).
 
There are a lot of other jobs and titles I have held but let's just say “I am a jack of many trades.” This is a running joke with many of my friends, but what can I say, I am an ENFP (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Prospecting) on the Myers-Briggs. I am basically interested in everything.
 
Please know that you and your families are already in my prayers. It is with great joy that I accept this new assignment by Cardinal Blase Cupich, and I look forward to getting to know and serve you all in the future.
 
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Fr. Carlos Rodriguez
A heartfelt thank you to our generous parish community and our Giving Tree committee for making sure that over 220 individuals at Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Agatha and Symphony will have received a gift or two this Christmas.
 
If that weren't enough, your approximately 300 additional gifts lend much needed support to organizations like Kolbe House Jail Ministry, Courage and our own Don's Helping Hands, that assist those less fortunate.
 
Thank you to everyone who donated, wrapped, or helped deliver the gifts.  And I would especially like to thank our committee leaders: Carol and Amanda Galuhn and Kelly Smith, who organized this ministry and made it all happen.
 
There are still other opportunities to help those less fortunate.  As we continue to celebrate this Christmas Season, we are reminded especially of how the Holy Family was forced to flee into Egypt and live as immigrants in a foreign land in order to protect Jesus from King Herod.
 
Sadly, as we see in the news today, there are still millions of immigrants each year who are tragically forced to flee their homelands to avoid violence, war and poverty.  At St. Josaphat Parish, we support our brothers and sisters in need through our Refugee Ministry.  
 
I invite you to consider supporting a refugee family and perhaps volunteer to accompany a family as they arrive in Chicago.  You can find more information on how to support a family or get involved by visiting our parish website.  Click on Serve and look for our Refugee Ministry page.
 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
Father Francis