'Father George,' longtime pastor of Wheeling church, dies of COVID-19

  • The Rev. Jerzy "George" Gawlik

    The Rev. Jerzy "George" Gawlik Courtesy of St. Joseph the Worker Church

Updated 5/31/2020 5:14 PM

The Rev. Jerzy "George" Gawlik, who for 16 years served the faith needs of more than 2,000 parishioners at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Wheeling, died Friday from COVID-19.

The parish announced that Gawlik, 66, passed 10 days after entering Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview.


Father George, as he was known, spent more than 40 years in the priesthood. He was a member of the Society of the Divine Word, a Roman Catholic order that focuses on missionary work.

"He was always available," said Elaine Simpson, business manager for the church. "He was truly a missionary priest. He never turned a parishioner down whenever they came to call on him."

Simpson, who also is Wheeling's village clerk, said Gawlik was approachable and children were especially drawn to him.

"They were comfortable talking to him, which is really a rarity, I think, that children would go up to a priest," she said.

According to the parish, Gawlik came to the U.S. from his native Poland in 2004 and served St. Joseph first as associate pastor and then pastor.

While he could not have visitors while in the hospital, family members from Poland were able to connect with him in his final days via Zoom.

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"He passed peacefully while the family was watching him and praying for him," according to a statement on the parish website.

In a letter to the church community, Archdiocese of Chicago Bishop-elect Michael McGovern offered condolences to Gawlik's family and parishioners.

"Let us take comfort in the message of the risen Christ that we will see Fr. Gawlik again when our life on earth is over," he wrote.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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