By Jenny Meehan
I have always said, with 100% certainty that if it were not for St. Clare of Montefalco (Chicago) and the Augustinians, my life would be entirely different. I was "marked for life" by St. Clare and especially by three Augustinians who came into my life because of working there.
My story with the Augustinians started with my baptism. I was baptized at St. Clare by a non-O.S.A. family friend when I was a month old. Later, when it was time to start first grade, providentially my grandparents (who raised me) had to send me to St. Clare because St. Gall and St. Simon schools were full (long time ago!). St. Clare was not their first choice. Once there, Fr. Jim Friedel was my first pastor, followed by Fr. Mike Slattery.
When I was in high school, I started working at the rectory a few hours a week in the office as evening reception help. I was following in the footsteps of my best friend, Molly Chalik, who also worked in the rectory, and who I met in first grade at St. Clare. I remain great friends with Molly and I am part of her extended family.
In 1995, Fr. Tony Pizzo became pastor and he and the other Augustinians there fostered a real sense of family among all of us as employees. We would have a special lunch for each employee's birthday. I would ditch my college classes to come to work on those days to celebrate with everyone! I would hang out at the rectory as much as I possibly could because of the great atmosphere and camaraderie that we all shared. I even remember one day that I went early in the morning for Mass, then stayed the whole day until it was time to actually start work, just hanging out with Virginia the secretary and everyone else there. When Fr. Tony got back from being out in the afternoon, I hid behind the office door so he wouldn't know I had been there the whole day! It's just that I loved that place and time and everyone who was there so much. I grew up and grew into who I have become because of those years. Also at St. Clare, I met two people, who were my co-workers at the time, who have become two of my dearest friends: Annette Matuszewski and Oneida White.
One night while I was working in the office, Br. Mark Thedens invited me to attend a liturgy committee meeting. Well, the rest is history! Because of his invitation, I became more and more involved in the parish, as a communion minister, lector, part of the liturgy team, helping to prepare bishop dinners, helping with fundraising events, you name it. As Fr. Tony jokingly said more than once, "Let Jenny do it. She does everything anyway!" I also thank Anne Russell, an O.S.A. Affiliate and long time St. Clare parishioner, for her encouragement, especially in liturgy. I appreciate everyone who supported and allowed me to do and learn as much as I did there. The positive experiences I had set me for life.
Also at St. Clare I met Fr. John Flynn. He has become an important person in my life who I remain in contact with often to this day. After he moved from St. Clare, I would continue to visit him and still whenever he comes into Chicago, I usually pick him up for lunch or dinner, always over a glass of wine and many stories! One bit of wisdom he taught me was to not fret so much over things. One day I was in the rectory kitchen and I dropped an ice cube on the floor. I was kind of frantically looking for it so no one would step and slip on it. He came out and saw me and asked what I was doing. I told him. He just waved his hand and said, "Ah, it'll melt." Lesson: don't sweat the small stuff.
Another Augustinian that has made the most impact in my life has been Fr. Bill Lego. I first met him also when I was at St. Clare, and he was pastor of St. Rita. When both parishes worked together, I worked for him a little while, but we became better friends after he started in Province administration. Through the years, he has become a very good and valuable friend to me, and I am so grateful for his always being willing to listen, share, laugh, encourage and talk with me. His hospitality and including me in so many different things and his friendship is truly a blessing.
More than any other Augustinian, it was Fr. Tony who, through my years working at and attending St. Clare, gave me encouragement to continue on in ministry as a vocation, as a career. At St. Clare, he used to tell me I would make a great pastoral associate one day in a parish. I graduated from Catholic Theological Union and in 2006 I started working again with him at St. Rita Parish in Chicago. And in 2009 I indeed did become a pastoral associate with the Archdiocese of Chicago, what I continue to do today at St. Rita. I have learned more about ministry from Fr. Tony than anyone... how to treat and interact with people, how to do liturgy, how to approach parish ministry in general. His homilies, which speak to the heart and mind, have always been an important part of my spiritual life - helping me realize how I see God, relate to God, and relate to others.
He was there for me when each of my grandparents died and through other struggles over the years. Through his advice and humor, he would always make me feel better about myself, no matter what was going on. We still work together, and over the years his friendship and spiritual guidance led me to where I am today.
I also want to especially thank Fr. Luis Vera from the Villanova Province and Fr. David Vargas for what I have learned from them.
Because of the Augustinians, especially the ones I pointed out above, I truly HAVE been marked for life. There has not been a time since I entered first grade that I was not involved with them in some way. I will forever be grateful for how my life has turned out especially because of my formative years at St. Clare and how my experiences and interactions there prepared and called me to ministry. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the O.S.A. family.