Photo by Dermot Connolly
Newly ordained Deacon Michael Fekete participates in the Mass of Thanksgiving for him at St. Gerald Church in Oak Lawn on Sunday, June 5.
The St. Gerald parish family celebrated one of their own becoming a deacon, a first for the oldest parish in Oak Lawn, with a Mass of Thanksgiving for newly ordained Deacon Michael Fekete on Sunday at the church, 9310 S. 55th Ave.
Fekete was among 13 deacons from the Chicago Archdiocese whom Archbishop Blase Cupich ordained on Saturday at Holy Name Cathedral. They were the first to be ordained by Cupich since he succeeded Cardinal Francis George in 2014.
Deacons are clerical positions in the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike priests, they may be married. Their duties include community ministry and conducting baptisms and funerals. Deacons may perform most parts of the Mass, except for the consecration of the host for Holy Communion.
So, while the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, the St. Gerald pastor, was the chief celebrant of the Mass, Fekete read the Gospel and gave a homily afterward. About 10 other priests and deacons from parishes throughout the Chicago area were also concelebrants, including Deacons Timothy Keating, of St. Alexander in Palos Heights, and Edwin Hill, of Our Lady of the Ridge in Chicago Ridge.
The parish chapter of the Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard for the clergymen during the procession before and after Mass.
Fekete and his wife, Mary Jo, have been very active in St. Gerald Parish in various ways since moving to Oak Lawn with their son, Justin, about 12 years ago. Justin, who is going into his senior year at Mount Carmel High School, gave a reading at his father’s Thanksgiving Mass.
In addition to Mary Jo being one of the church organists, the couple are known for their singing voices, and are often called on to perform at weddings and other occasions.
Mike and Marcie Colantone, who spent 54 years in St. Gerald, were among the parishioners who came back to congratulate Fekete.
“We had to come back to see him. He sang at our 50th wedding anniversary, and he is an all-around great guy,” said Marcie.
The Feketes are originally from Pittsburgh, something the new deacon alluded to in his homily, which was about different types of miracles.
“One type of miracle might be watching our favorite hockey team playing in the Stanley Cup Finals,” he said, before adding something Blackhawks fans weren’t expecting, “We all know that team is the Pittsburgh Penguins.”
But they applauded their favorite son anyway.
The new deacon thanked his family for coming from Pittsburgh and elsewhere for the event, noting that they came from Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia and Ohio. He singled out his father, Joseph, “my best friend,” and father-in-law Joseph Streppa, for special thanks
Sadly, his mother, Catherine Fekete, died on March 21, followed by his mother-in-law, JoAnn Streppa, on April 3. He said he missed them both, but felt their presence in the church.
“My mother picked out these vestments,” he said of his green and gold flowing garments. “So she will always be close to me.”
“But this isn’t really about me. This is about our community of Oak Lawn, and the surrounding neighborhoods,” he said.
“I considered working full-time in a lay position in the Church, but I felt a calling to be a deacon,” said Fekete, who is the director of international services at Lewis University. “It took a long time. But it was worth it,” he said.
“Ordinarily, the process of becoming a deacon takes four years, but it took me 11, because I did everything part-time.”
“I was required to get my master’s degree in theology,” said Fekete, who attended the Institute of Diaconal Studies in Mundelein.
“But again, it is not about me. It is about how the role in the whole Oak Lawn community,” he added. Fekete said his particular focus will be on bereavement ministry.
“Archbishop Cupich’s long-term plan is for parishes to work closely together and with the community, and I want to be involved in that.”
Cecilia Olejniczak, who has been a St. Gerald parishioner for 66 years, including 60 as the church organist, said she was happy to see a parishioner finally become a deacon.
“We have had priests and nuns, but this is our first home-grown deacon,” said Olejniczak, who raised her nine children in the parish, which dates back to 1921. Her youngest, Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), was busy with the Holy Name Society preparing the chicken and other hot food for the reception.
“I think it is great how the entire St. Gerald community has come together to celebrate,” said Annamarie Blaha, one of the organizers, as she scanned the crowd at the reception in the Jonathan Collins Activity Center.
“From the Holy Name and all of the ministries, organizations, nuns and students, this brought us all together, and I think it is just because everyone likes him,” she said.
“Having Deacon Fekete is going to be great for the parish,” said Malcolm. “I hope he inspires some of these other guys to do the same thing,” he said with a grin.