By Joe Boyle
A new era has begun at St. Gerald Parish in Oak Lawn with the selection of a new pastor and principal.
The Rev. Robert Pajor became the new pastor at St. Gerald Parish, 9310 S. 55th Court, on July 1. He replaces the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm, the popular pastor at St. Gerald who died last year on July 4. In the interim, the Rev. Michael Flynn, had served as the parish's administrator.
Pajor, who was born in Brzesko, Poland, was previously serving as associate pastor at St. Benedict Parish on Chicago's North Side since July 1, 2015. Pajor grew up in the small town of Iwkowa, which is located about 50 miles from Krakow. After three years at Tarnow Seminary, he came to the United States to continue his studies at Mundelein Seminary.
He was ordained in 2007 at Holy Name Cathedral. Since his ordination, Pajor has served at St. Thecla and St. Ferdinand parishes in Chicago, and St. John Brebeuf in Niles before his assignment at St. Benedict.
Pajor said he is excited about becoming the new pastor at St. Gerald.
"We will have many opportunities to get to know each other," said Pajor, whose father still lives in Poland along with two sisters. Another sister lives in the U.S.
When Pajor was in the seminary he heard Cardinal Francis George speak at an ordination about the need for priests in Chicago.
The thought stayed with him and a few years later, when he decided to be a missionary priest, he again considered Chicago.
"If I was ordained a priest in Tarnow, I could go to a missionary and then come back to Tarnow," he said. "To be ordained here, it was a lifelong decision."
But in an interview with after his ordination, Pajor said he did not regret the decision.
"I am very happy to be here," he added.
At St. Gerald School, Kemberly Markham is replacing Al Theis as the principal. Theis retired after serving as principal at St. Gerald for the past 10 years.
Markham was most recently the principal at St. Paul Catholic School in Florence, Ky., for the past three years. She also served from 2015 to 2017 as assistant superintendent for the Diocese of Gary, Ind. She also served as principal for 10 years at the Nativity of Our Lord School in Portage, Ind.
The new principal said she is honored to take on the role as principal at St. Gerald.
"My first project will be to address the health and safety of the school community amid the COVID-19 pandemic," Markham said. "Combatting infection risks for students, staff and families will take priority. Under Mr. Theis' guidance, a committee was established to research and prepare plans for battling transmission of COVID-19. This does include such measures as taking temperatures of students as they enter school, social distancing in the buildings, and disinfecting surfaces. It is my hope that families have been working with students while they have been home in teaching them safe practices such as washing hands, staying a safe physical distance from others, and wearing a face mask that covers both the nose and mouth."
Markham said these practices will be reinforced at school and the first few days will be spent orienting students to these actions.
"It is my intent to communicate often with all of our staff and families," Markham said. "It will be vital that we all work collaboratively together to ensure that St. Gerald is a faith-filled, safe environment that we want for the students."
As for Pajor, he knows there are obstacles because of COVID-19 but is ecstatic about serving as a pastor for the first time.
"I can't wait to meet you all," Pajor said. "Thank you so much for your faithfulness and generosity. This is a different time. Please be patient with me as I learn your ways of doing things."
Pajor said he also looks forward to serving parishioners just south of Chicago.
"For the first time I am moving to live in the south suburbs, and I am proud I will be serving at the oldest, and of course, greatest parish in this beautiful town," Pajor concluded.