Christ in Chicago

Marie Dombai

The Gift of Motherhood

When I was younger, I grew up knowing not only my mom but also her mother and her mother’s mother—my grandma and great grandma. I saw through the generations the meaning of motherhood. I saw these very strong, independent, spiritual, and loving women as my teachers.

They taught me many things over the years. They taught me about caring, understanding, loving, forgiving, patience, and life. (Just to name a few). They taught the importance and the value of family.

My mom was my superhero—you know, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound to prevent that glass of milk from spilling. My mother gave life to and raised six children. Being a mother of six isn’t easy, (I now know first hand), but hats off to my mom. She is a tough act to follow.

One day, something happened—I became a mom. It took awhile, but I came to understand that motherhood was more that just diapers and mounds of laundry. I realized that our six children were blessings from God and that I was truly blessed.

After I became a mother of six I often asked, “How did Mom do it?” but mom shared her many gifts and life lessons that soon became mine to teach. As a mother, I then began my discipleship and carried on the role of teacher. In raising our children, we have taught the importance of family, good moral values, life lessons, and faith all while teaching love—love for self, each other, family, friends, and God.

Now as a grandmother, I see that what I learned, I have successfully taught to my children as they live their lives and are raising their children in a Catholic environment.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you my admiration for the blessed Mary. She, too, is my mother and has taught me what motherhood is all about through the stories of her raising the Son of God. Mary has become my heavenly superhero, someone who I look to and pray to for support and guidance.

I am extremely thankful for the gift of motherhood and I am truly blessed to have mothers who have given me and continue to give me so much to be grateful for.

Marie Dombai, a retired nursing field supervisor, is a lifelong St. Juliana parishioner and an SJS alumna. She has been married to Tom, a diaconal candidate for 33 years. They have six children and (soon to be) two grandchildren.

Dan Snow

You might have missed a recent Chicago Tribune article on Father Augustus Tolton, who took a big step forward towards canonization this year. Father Tolton remains a powerful figure for many black American Catholics, but his name is not widely known, a regretful fact here in Chicago, where he left a lasting legacy. His story is worth knowing because it demonstrates that while some of the individuals who form the Church can fail, there are many others who make it a force for good and help to redeem it.

Born a slave in 1854 to a Catholic family in Missouri, Tolton’s family escaped to Quincy, Illinois. Growing up in Quincy, he dealt with discrimination, even when he decided to join the priesthood. Denied entry to American seminaries due to his skin color, Tolton pushed on, traveling to Rome for his studies. Ordained and sent back to Illinois (where racist persecution continued), he’d make his way to Chicago in 1889 and would establish the city’s first parish for the then marginalized black community. In July 1887, a few short years after the parish opened, Fr. Tolton passed out from a heatstroke and died at the age of 43.

Tolton’s legacy has not been overlooked in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, where his work continues in Catholic Charities’ Father Augustus Tolton Peace Center. There, aid workers, counselors, and volunteers heal wounds, help the needy, and assist those struggling through violence, poverty, and other ailments. Their work shows the power for social justice and equality in Catholicism, work that has been ongoing in some form for centuries and that we sometimes lose sight of. Tolton would have been proud that his work of serving the marginalized continues in Chicago and we should be proud to claim his legacy.

Augustus Tolton was born as someone’s property and had his faith chosen by those who claimed ownership of him. There were Catholic lay people and priests who showed him nothing but contempt and hate, contradicting their own morals and values. Yet, Tolton kept his faith and chose to dedicate himself to the Church, going on to improve the lives of many throughout his lifetime, with the support of others in his community and beyond. Tolton shows that while the Church can inflict harm when corrupted by those who ignore its teachings, it can be used for immense good by those who honor its true principles.

Dan Snow works in corporate communications and has been a parishioner at St. Juliana for 13 years.




Cam von Wahlde

One day, about twenty years ago, I was looking through Dad’s Bible and found a page. It was
torn (carefully) out of diary. The date was October 28, 1941—my birthday—the actual date of
my birth.

I am an only child. I almost had two brothers. Both were miscarriages and my Mom
almost died during the pregnancies. So my birth was something special. But I never realized
how special until I read that diary entry. I would like to share part of it. It has been a powerful
inspiration to me since the time I found it. And it says in a powerful way what the pride of a
father and his hopes for his child can be.

This evening at 4:53 p.m. my wife gave birth to an 8 ½ lb boy at St. Elizabeth Hospital in
Covington, Ky. Three minutes after he was born, I heard him cry for the first time. And
while I was in the hall, the thought came to me (also tears): I said, “My baby! Thank
God it is over.” The nurse came from the delivery room and showed me my new son.
What a thrill it was to see him for the first time—a child created in the image and likeness
of God. What happiness my wife and I will have in caring for this new heir of heaven.
May the good God spare us long enough to see him well anchored in the fear of God, a
good man and a child to be proud of.

Since I first read that page, I have treasured it. That page expressed in a very real way the
depth of Dad’s love for his newborn child. He was a very good father and a very good man
throughout his life. But that page has made it all more concrete and moving!

Cam von Wahlde, formerly the Chairperson of the Theology Department and now
Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Loyola University Chicago, is a father of two and
has been a St. Juliana Parishioner with his wife Carol for 36 years.

John Pelrine

This article is scheduled to run on Labor Day weekend which I think of more as a three-day weekend
than the holiday that celebrates the contributions of the American worker. Maybe the extra time the
long weekend provides will allow us a few moments to think about work in our own lives.

For better or worse, many of us define ourselves by what we do at work. We spend so much
time working… if you work a full-time job that requires 40 or 50 or 60 hours every week, you are
spending most of your time awake “working”. It could be in an office, a squad car, in health care, in
manufacturing or the trades or retail or working in the home or the countless other ways we earn a
living. So, it’s not surprising that it can become how we think about ourselves or how others see us. How
many times have you heard (or said)—That’s (fill in a name), he or she is a (fill in the blank)?

If our identity is tied to work, what does it mean to lose a job because of the economy or by
getting fired? The effect can be profound—some are devastated or disoriented, others relieved to be
out of a tough situation. Either way it can produce much anxiety and disruption in our lives. Hopefully,
we can turn it into an opportunity to do meaningful work in a new setting.

In his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (Through Work) Saint John Paul II upheld the dignity of
work—describing it as “sharing in the activity of God, the Creator.” John Paul also said “work is a good
thing for man.... through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also
achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being’.”
I’m grateful to have meaningful work and a long weekend, too!

John Pelrine is a college administrator, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 965, a member of the parish
Finance Council, married to Fran and the father of three sons, and has been a parishioner for 25 years.

Kathleen (Kathy) Grace

I was born in the south of Ireland in a little town called Tipperary. I was raised in a very strict
Catholic household. My mother was never without a prayer book or rosary in her hands. Every
Sunday for Mass we had to dress up in our best clothes out of respect for God’s house. I have
fond memories of having to wear a scarf or hat!

I came to this beautiful country in 1952. It seems long ago. I initially lived with my uncle
on the south side of Chicago. Thirty-eight years ago I moved into St. Juliana parish where I live
today. I’ve met so many wonderful people and clergy along the way. They have all enriched my
life and have made my time in the parish seem to fly by.

I retired from my last job at Resurrection Hospital (Food Services Department) in 1997. I
made up my mind that I was going to stay active in some way and not just waste away sitting
around the house. I feel it’s critical to living a long, healthy life.

I enjoy getting up every morning to attend Mass and receive the Blessed Sacrament. I
took on duties to care for the main altar in the church and chapel. This has been a personally
rewarding experience for me. I felt a much closer connection to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin
Mary. I’ve hopefully contributed in some small way to the success of our vibrant parish!

I also started visiting with dear friends and family that were living in nursing homes in
the area. I did what I could to help them by assisting with meals or to just sit and talk and let
them know someone cared. My husband Pat spent five years in a home once he lost his ability to
walk. I tried to be there for him every day. I brought him some home-cooked meals and helped
the staff to care for his needs. Pat was a very religious man and went to Mass everyday as long as
he was able. He went to be with the good Lord in 2007. I miss him still.

The United States of America has been everything I could ask for and more. It is truly the
greatest nation on earth. My hope is that everyone can mutually respect each other.

I hope you enjoyed my story. I’ll leave you with a little poem I wrote:

The Prayer I dreamed
If at times life seems unfair
It dishes out more than you can bear
Just stop awhile and say a prayer
And God will keep you in his care

Long live St. Juliana Parish! God bless you all.

Kathleen (Kathy) Grace is a retired employee of Resurrection Hospital and has been a
parishioner of Saint Juliana for 38 years.

Joan Vonder

Christ in Chicago, August 27, 2017

My book club friends will attest to the fact that I like to read a lot and I pretty much like everything I
read. The problem is that once I move on to the next book I can’t remember much from the books I just
finished. This is with one exception:

A long time ago I read a fictionalized account of the raising of Lazarus that has haunted me through the
years and greatly influenced my belief in God’s love.

I wish I could remember the name of the book or the author but when I’ve reread a couple of the books
I thought it was in I wasn’t able to locate the passage.

In this beautifully written and emotion-packed account Jesus enters the house of Lazarus and is
confronted by Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters. They are not pleased that Jesus did not arrive before
Lazarus died. Jesus goes into the room, sits beside his friend, and takes his hand. Jesus weeps as He
begins to speak to Lazarus and call him back from the dead. Jesus is not weeping because his friend has
died. He is weeping because he has seen that Lazarus is happy now and wants to remain where he is.
Jesus knows that if He asks His friend to return to the living He will be asking Lazarus to sacrifice a great
deal for Him. Jesus tells Lazarus that he must return to his earthly existence as part of God’s greater plan
for salvation. Lazarus reluctantly returns.

There are many things that I took away from this story that have helped provide meaning throughout
my life:

  • Jesus has a strong understanding of our humanness. He is happy when we are happy and he
    mourns when we are sad. He is the perfect Friend.
  • There is a Plan and we are not able to understand God’s Plan or the role he wants us to play in
    it. As best we can we should try to listen to His quiet cues.
  • He will ask us to make sacrifices that will confuse us, anger us and cause us to question Him but
    he will always be with us to help get us through those difficult times.

Joan Vonder Heide has been a parishioner of St. Juliana for over 60 years. She and her husband
attended St. Juliana School (class of '66), as have their children and grandchildren.

Steve Silich

After I attended daily Mass recently, I jumped on the Kennedy and headed downtown to work. Sure, I
could take the train, but I enjoy using the time to think, reflect and pray.

As I was sitting in traffic (which you all can relate to), I started to think about those who have lost their
way from God and the church. What happened that they no longer participate in the Mass?

I started to look around at the buildings off of the expressway and I saw signs of God everywhere! There
were crosses on church steeples in every direction, pictures, messages and statues of Mary. A little
further down I saw rosaries hanging from rearview mirrors.

God is all around us, all of the time. We sometimes just need to stop, slow down and look around. I was
amazed by all of the signs of God that I saw once I opened my eyes and started to look.

I think it our duty as Catholics to help people find their way back to the church. If you know someone
that has lost their way from the church I would encourage you to tell them to slow down, stop and look
around. They might just find God somewhere they have never looked. Even sitting in rush-hour traffic!

Steve Silich is a father of two SJS students in kindergarten and 4 th grade, a Chick-fil-A
restaurant owner along with his wife Lauren, and has been a lifelong parishioner of Saint

Julie Hammerle

Christ in Chicago, August 20, 2017

The word “faith” has always been a loaded one for me. I’m a skeptic and a contrarian by
nature. There are a lot of things I love, but also take great issue with—TV shows, for
example. There is no show I love so much that I wouldn't also complain about it. I adore
Game of Thrones, but I have many, many problems with it. (Like Jaime Lannister, for
example. What have they done to Jaime? Don’t get me started.)

While I attended Catholic school through high school, I never thought much about
“religion” or “faith” in any serious way. I’d tell people, “I’m not religious, I’m
‘spiritual,’” which wasn’t even true. The only thing I was ‘spiritual’ about was
memorizing Seinfeld scripts and taping Indigo Girls lyrics on my bedroom door.

I went to a non-religious college down in Indianapolis, where suddenly, for the first time
in my life, I was surrounded by people who weren’t Catholic—they were Christian. They
led with their religion, and they had it all figured out at age eighteen. I was still trying to
decide on a major. It intimidated me. I was never going to have that certainty.

Now that I’m a few years out of college (and Indiana!), I’m secure enough to know that
I’m always going to question my beliefs as they evolve, just like I’m always going to find
things wrong with Game of Thrones, no matter how excited I am to watch it on Sunday

I’m in life-long relationship with the Catholic Church, and relationships grow and
change. I could wait until I’m one hundred percent certain about everything, or, instead, I
could accept what I know for sure—that I want to live up to Jesus’s example; that I want
to put more compassion, kindness, and empathy into the world. We need that right now.
We need hope.

And that, for me, at least for now, is where my faith resides.

Julie Hammerle is a novelist, mother of two at SJS, and a lifelong member of St.
Juliana Parish.

Emily Gunty

I was raised Catholic but never went to Catholic school.  As a kid, it was more about learning faith and being a good person and less about the rules of religion.  My parents raised us according to the “Golden Rule,” that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.  God and faith had a role in all that.  My family always prayed before meals and bedtime, I attended CCD once a week, received all the sacraments, and went to church with my dad and sister weekly (my mom is Lutheran but we were raised Catholic). Through all this, I knew that God was out there blessing my family and me, and helping me when I needed it.  

We were always told that once we turned 18 we would no longer be “forced” to go to church.  My older sister stopped going immediately while I still had to go.  Eventually, even before I was 18, my dad no longer made me go.  I took a break for few years. I still prayed, asked God for help, but no longer attended church.  One day, my senior year of high school, something told me it was time to go back and I made the decision to do so on my own.  I started to go with my dad again, volunteered to be an Extraordinary Minister of Communion and got a little more involved.  

In college, I went to Mass on Sunday nights, became a lector, and hung around the Newman Center. But again, I felt I needed a break.  Like many young people, I don't always agree 100% with the "rules” of the church and struggle with how that ties to my faith.  I need to experience God in my own way and not always necessarily through the lens of the Catholic Church.

When I bought my house in Edison Park, church seemed to pull me back to regain my sense of community.  I registered at St. Juliana’s, went weekly and sat alone in the pew.  I started Bible Study to meet other parishioners and to have people to say hello to.  In this church I found a new family and I lector to remain involved.  I am once again in a lull with the Church but my faith has never left me.  I will be back to weekly Mass soon, I know it.  Faith is a journey and I am still going through mine. 


Emily Gunty, originally from Edgebrook, is a Data and Analytics consultant and has been a parishioner of Saint Juliana for over eight years.

Tom Dombai

For the past two years, my wife, Marie, and I have been going through the archdiocese formation
process to help prepare me to serve the Church and our parish as a deacon. The formation and
training process is a four-year program that involves the study of a great many subjects and
includes more exams, papers and projects than I ever imagined. The program is not just
academics, it is also about preparing us spiritually. Spiritual development takes real effort. It
requires greater interiority, a focusing on one’s relationship with God, and a strengthening of
one’s prayer life. But it is also the path to holiness.

My understanding of the importance of prayer has developed over the course of my life.
When I was younger, I generally prayed just when I needed God’s help the most, like to help me
get a school project completed on time when I had been a procrastinating. As a parent, I prayed
mostly for the benefit of my wife, our kids, and our extended families. My problem was that
when there was no particular thing that we really needed at the moment, I prayed less often.

Participating in the deacon formation program has helped me realize the importance of
making time for God and prayer every day. For many, including myself, forming the habit of
daily prayer requires real effort and self-discipline. As deacons in formation, we are asked to
pray the morning and evening prayer of the liturgy of hours each day. At first, this seemed like
just an added task to perform. But over time, I’ve grown to appreciate more frequent and varied
prayer in my life. While you don’t always hear God answer back, that may be because we don’t
allow for enough quiet time with God to listen for a response. I’ve learned that God doesn’t
speak to us in loud or showy displays, but rather in quiet and subtle ways. Occasionally, I feel a
sort of grace, the soft silent whisper of God, that has given me deeper insight in a scripture
passage and a feeling of inner calm that I would not have found on my own. These experiences
help confirm for me that I am traveling the right path. Forming the habit of daily prayer is
important for all of us because all are called to holiness.

Tom Dombai is an attorney for the City of Chicago, father of six children, a lifelong
parishioner of St. Juliana (58 years), and is in the process of becoming a permanent deacon
for the Archdiocese of Chicago.