'A life that has mattered,' and a celebration worth noting
Being the pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Glenview, with its 80 ministries and intergenerational membership, can keep a priest on his toes.
"This is not a parish for the faint of heart. This weekend I have three weddings. There's always something going on. I find that very energizing. It's a train that keeps moving, it doesn't stop," Father Jeremiah Boland said recently.
"Father Jerry" has led OLPH since July 2014, but he's been ordained for 40 years. On Oct. 9, the parish will celebrate this landmark with a 5 p.m. Mass of Thanksgiving in the OLPH church, with a reception to follow in the parish hall at 1775 Grove St., Glenview.
Boland's true anniversary date was May 13, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration was set for Oct. 2. It was then delayed a week so as not to conflict with Glenview's Blocktoberfest.
Priests celebrate their 40th year of ordination "because not too many priests make it to their 50th," Boland said.
Yet, he sounds chipper at 66, and he said OLPH resident the Rev. Jim Barrett, who marked his 39th anniversary this year, is 10 years older. Plus, this year Pastor Emeritus the Rev. Thomas Hickey celebrated his 51st anniversary.
Younger OLPH priests Fr. Patrick Kizza and Fr. Larry Basbas celebrated years three and one, respectively, in 2021.
"I always tell my younger priests, you're going to make friends for life here. It's that kind of place," Boland said.
He's about seen it all over his 40 years. His 1981 ordination itself, by John Cardinal Cody at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, foreshadowed turbulent times for the church and the population at large.
During the ceremony in Mundelein, Pope John Paul II was shot in Vatican City, Boland recalled. His ceremony was disrupted by people protesting the ordination of women, he said. Cody had warned he would stop the ordination if it were interrupted, but the cardinal carried on.
"My ordination, with all that went on that day, was very powerful," said Boland, an Irishman who grew up in St. Gall's Parish in Chicago, 55th Street and Kedzie Avenue. Among his four brothers is Monsignor Michael Boland, the retired president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and now an executive consultant with Catholic Charities USA.
"Much of my 40 years of priesthood I've been involved in a church that's been struggling to find its way, dealing with deeply divided moral and social issues, divided in the left and the right, (and with) the secular issues from the clergy," he said.
"From the get-go this was not going to be an easy ride down main street. It's been a blessing. I wouldn't trade it for anything, but it's not the kind of church I would have anticipated on May 13, 1981. It's been the church at its best and the church at its worst."
At once working in geographically one of the smallest Illinois archdioceses with a two-county (Cook, Lake) footprint, yet one of the largest in the country, serving some 2.2 million ethnically and racially diverse Catholics over 290 parishes, Father Jerry has worked in urban and rural settings, with the well-off and the less-fortunate.
In addition to serving as either spiritual leader or in administration with St. James in Arlington Heights, Holy Cross in Deerfield, Mary, Seat of Wisdom in Park Ridge and, most recently, Holy Family Church in Chicago, in 10 years with the Archdiocese of Chicago Boland also worked closely with former archbishops Francis Cardinal George and Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
From 1994-2004, he first placed priests throughout the diocese, then served as a delegate for international priests, such as OLPH's Fr. Kizza, from Uganda.
Boland called the past year at Our Lady of Perpetual Help "the most creative year of my life."
Dealing with the temporary closure of the church under the pandemic, he and OLPH instituted drive-in Mass, started a radio station and extended the church's reach through its virtual ministry.
Early in the pandemic, Boland learned of a parishioner in the hospital, dying of COVID-19. He couldn't attend the man personally, so he used FaceTime to deliver prayer.
"That's when it hit me that everything has changed," Boland said.
Sally Corbett of Glenview, an OLPH parishioner for 48 years, said she once awoke after surgery to find Boland there at her hospital bed. Corbett said such visits, behind the scenes and unpublicized, are common.
"It's very comforting to have a man of his caliber going to bat for you," she said.
While Boland can be strict, he's got a great sense of humor, Corbett said. She can't help but praise his leadership within OLPH's Seminary Teaching Program, which works with students from St. Mary of the Lake.
"He is so full of wisdom, and every time he speaks to these young men I see how fortunate they were to be assigned to this parish because they have this role model to learn from. He's really a good shepherd in all manner of speaking," she said.
Continually meeting new, young churchgoers in the active, highly regarded Glenview parish, mixing with those like Corbett who've attended OLPH for decades, Boland believes a lot of other pastors would like to be in his shoes.
"He's very loved there," Corbett said.
"When all is said and done, it's been a life that has mattered," Boland said.
"I think of all these people, and I've been privileged to be a part of the most significant moments of their life, and the only reason I was there was because I was a priest. I'm so grateful for that. I became a much better person because of these relationships and the experiences we've shared.
"I've had a lot of opportunities to experience the church in different parts of the world. I've had, at times, been in the inner circle of how things work and on the outside. I've had many different lenses with which to filter the church, and I'm very grateful for that," he said.