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Father John Enright

Fr. John Enright,  Bringing the Mission Home

 

History, to paraphrase the old cliché, repeats itself. Trends, movements and fads seem to appear and reappear according to their own cycle. While we move forward, learn and develop as a community, change and challenge are never far away. Depending on the particular event, change can come as an old friend or an unknown stranger. Change and challenge have always been part of Epiphany's history. Thankfully for us, and due to the wonderful leadership and loyal faith of pastors, past change and challenge have always been welcomed as old friends and exciting opportunities.

In 1901 Epiphany Parish opened its doors to everyone who came to "Crawford" seeking a better life, opportunity and security. At the turn of the 20th century the majority of Catholics emigrated in great numbers from Ireland, Poland, Germany, Italy, Russia and other European countries. There was also a tremendous domestic migration during this same time. Many African Americans also came to the North seeking the same opportunities and security that the industries and stock yards of Chicago offered. This collage of history, cultures and backgrounds was Epiphany's first parish.

By the early 1970's a new cycle of change and opportunity came to Epiphany's doors. South Lawndale's "Little Village" community started to become home to many Mexican American families and immigrant families from Mexico and Central America. Chicago has always been home to many Americans of Mexican decent. The parishes of St. Francis of Assisi on Roosevelt Road and Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Southeast side by the steel mills were well established "Latino" communities. The Pilsen neighborhood, long a port of entry for immigrants of every nation, experienced tremendous growth among the Hispanic community in the 60's. There was much over-crowding and housing was a constant concern for residents and civic leaders alike. Parishes on the east side of Little Village, responding to the growing need among Spanish speaking Catholics responded to the needs of the community and many services and ministries once offered in Polish, Lithuanian, English and Italian also began to be offered in Spanish.

Epiphany would not be far behind in celebrating the universality of our Faith in Spanish as well. The first Spanish mass at Epiphany was celebrated on Sunday, August 20, 1972 by Fr. Denis O'Connell. Fr. Clete Kiley continued the work of Fr. O'Connell and in a few years there was more and more need for the celebration of the Faith in Spanish. Monsignor Hayes already spoke Spanish from his time in Texas and continued to study Español in his free time to better serve his parish.

When Monsignor Hayes reached his 70th year he retired as pastor. "Quite the occasion," Monsignor recalls, "In those days we were summoned into the Cardinal’s office and we were reminded not to forget to bring our coats. The Cardinal would thank us for our work, he was very generous and gracious, tell us we were to retire and help us on with our overcoats which we were instructed to bring!” The search was on for the next pastor of Epiphany, someone with the skills and talents to serve the parish in this time of "opportunity".

Fr. John Enright, ordained a Chicago priest in 1953, was returning from many years of service at the Archdiocesan mission in San Miguel, Panama. Fr. Enright, along with Fathers Leo Mahon and Don Headly, accepted the challenge of forming a Catholic mission and parish in the tropical jungle of Panama. God blessed their work with success and in short order the little mission of "San Miguelito" grew into a bedrock parish for the region. The Chicago missionaries were pioneers in lay leadership training and small "base community" formation which brought a rich harvest of Catholic leaders to Panama. The local Diocese was able to assume permanent responsibilities and the Chicago boys made their way home.

Fr. Enright was eager to continue to serve the Hispanic Apostolate in Chicago and share with his home Church the great blessings he received in Panama. When asked where he thought he should serve in Chicago Fr. Enright said he would go anywhere there was a need for a pastor who spoke Spanish. In 1976 there were only a handful of diocesan priests with this facility. Fr. John, a.k.a. Padre Juan, arrived at Epiphany in July 1976 and would serve until his retirement in 1994. During his 18 years of service, and with the help of many fine priests and lay leaders, Fr. Enright led Epiphany in the spirit of Vatican II and prepared the community to be "Church" in the modern world.

The challenges and difficulties that were facing the Archdiocese were no strangers to Epiphany but no match for Fr. Enright. As dioceses throughout the nation struggled with the changing face of Catholic Education in America, Fr. John, with the dynamic and innovative vision and leadership of the Sinsinawa Dominicans, more than met the challenge and the parish school continued to thrive. Division and disunity that plagued and paralyzed other parishes in the midst of ethnic and racial development was nothing more than a bump in the road for Fr. John. His welcoming and hospitable nature was infectious. He was a true friend for every parishioner and took special care to ensure the needs of the children were tended to. New ministries began, our Social Care and Food Pantry was established, more and more parishioners trusted in John's invitation to take charge of their church, their parish.

After commissioning a Montreal artist to develop a unique representation of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of The Americas, for the people of Epiphany, Fr. John ceremoniously put the life of the parish under the protection, guidance and intercession of "La Morenita". Epiphany was indeed a "star" that shone in the darkness, a great light leading many to God. Fr. Enright never lost sight of that truth. Fr. Enright was especially concerned with fostering vocations to the religious and priestly life among the families of Epiphany. He encouraged the young people to consider the priesthood or religious life. He supported the youth in their prayer and discernment regarding vocations. Fr. Enright understood that mission takes place not only in the jungles of Panama or in the vast plains of Africa. John taught Epiphany that mission takes place first in our own backyard and he took to heart Jesus' instruction to the Apostles to always trust in God's goodness while "walking the walk and talking the talk". John retired as pastor in 1994 and he continued serving the Church in both the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet.

 

Fr. John Enright

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