Voices in the Church

A devout attorney in search of the sacred. A gay activist battling for equality. An immigrant seeking refuge. A nun pursuing peace at any cost. A gathering of the faithful.

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Dorothy Schardt
Volunteer, Amate House

Dorothy Schardt recently finished her ten-month stint working for Amate House, an archdiocese social service program, and she was supposed to receive a final $500 stipend (to supplement the $100 per month she had been earning). But Schardt had already spent that money: she knew that her work in Cicero would mean speaking a lot of Spanish, so before she started she went on a volunteer trip (at a cost of about $475) to Mexico, to improve her language skills. “It really helped me, though,” Schardt says. “I used it every day.”

The 22-year-old daughter of two Chicago public school teachers, Schardt grew up in Darien and graduated summa cum laude from Loyola University. She was one of the 40 young people who live in four communal residences around the city during a year of service at one of 30 sites designated by the archdiocese. The jobs can range from teaching in the inner city to counseling victims of torture at the Marjorie Kovler Center near Loyola. Each group has a modest household budget, and residents share the chores. Schardt had restroom cleaning duty at her house.

Schardt worked one day a week at an activities center for the elderly, and started an afterschool program for Cicero kids. “For most of these kids, the language at home is not English-so when they get home they can’t get help with their homework,” Schardt says.

And are her efforts part of a spiritual quest? An expression of deep devotion? Schardt doesn’t seem to give those matters too much thought. “I am a bad person to talk about those things,” she says. “I am not very religious.”

-D. Z.

Sister Dorothy Pagosa
8th Day Center for Justice

“We say there are two feet to social justice,” says Sister Dorothy Pagosa, a staffer at the 8th Day Center for Justice. “You have direct service, like Catholic Charities, and then there’s us. We are seeking systemic change.”

For 30 years, the center, located at 205 West Monroe Street, has been a hub of nonviolent protest. Every Tuesday since 9/11, the group has run a prayer vigil for peace in front of the Kluczynski Federal Building.

While the group has a strong base in Chicago, it has 40 congregations nationwide and seeks to comment primarily on national issues. In May 2004, the group helped place 100 mock coffins on Federal Plaza to commemorate “Iraq War Memorial Day"-typical of their eloquent protests.

Pagosa, 51, has worked at the center since 1987, and serves as its de facto accountant, though the organization is run by consensus. In 2003, Pagosa and 8th Day staffer Kathy Long were arrested in Georgia while protesting the School of the Americas at Fort Benning. They served three months in Pekin federal prison, near Peoria, for misdemeanor criminal trespass on military property. Many of the full-timers at the Center-the majority of whom are nuns and priests-have served prison time. That, Pagosa says, just goes with the territory.

“I think the lives we have chosen demand that we lead a discerning life,” says Pagosa. “We have to be aware of our world and what is going on and proclaim it.”

-D. Z.

Margarita Garcia
Parishioner, St. Lambert Church

“I can’t say the act of contrition in English. If I say it in Spanish I mean it.”

The Catholic Church brought Margarita Garcia to Chicago from Cuba when she was a teenager, and more than 40 years later, her faith continues to give her life direction. Garcia, then 15, was one of the more than 14,000 Cuban children who came to the United States in the early 1960s, after Castro came to power.

Placed in the Wilmette home of Frank and Margaret O’Dowd (then expecting their ninth child), Garcia learned English with the family’s three-year-old and found comfort in the faith they shared. “I felt I was in known territory,” she says. “We believed the same things.”

Reunited with her parents here a few years later, Garcia went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. For the past 24 years she has been a partner in Hernandez & Garcia, an ad agency-and for the past 25 years she has been a member of St. Lambert Church in Skokie. She serves on the board of advisers for Catholic Charities.

As unusual as her experience was, Garcia knows she shares much with thousands of other new Chicagoans. “The church is the one thing that can center them,” she says. “They may not have a job, they may be undocumented, but they can always trust that somehow God is in control.”

-K. M.

Barbara Blaine
Founder and president of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP)

When news of the scandal involving widespread abuse by priests started breaking out of Boston in 2002, many Catholics were shocked. But not Barbara Blaine. As president and founder of SNAP, Blaine, now 49, was well acquainted with such dark secrets. Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Blaine as a teenager was abused by a priest. “I thought that when I finally came forward, the church would do the right thing,” she says. “When I realized they weren’t going to help me, I started looking for other survivors.”

SNAP was born in 1989, when Blaine, then a Chicago social worker, put ads in Catholic newspapers searching for other victims. The group quickly spread to other cities. Mainly a self-help group at its start, today with more than 5,000 members SNAP is the largest, oldest, and most active national support group for those abused by religious authority figures.

“Since 2002, 700 priests who were abusing kids have been removed from their positions,” she says. “So I concede that the church is safer today. But still, many changes are little more than paper shuffling and window dressing [that] do not go to the heart of the matter.” To that end, Blaine, who for six years worked for the office of the Cook County Public Guardian, now works full-time for SNAP. “How can the church work authentically for peace and social justice in the world,” she asks, “if it can’t do so within its own boundaries first?”

-M. F. C.

The Exorcist
Associate pastor, Archdiocese of Chicago

“These battles are not mine. I’m solely an instrument, thank God.”

According to the exorcist for the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Devil keeps very busy. “You’d be surprised,” he says. “Evil definitely exists in the world.”

In 1999, to the delight of the newspapers, Cardinal Francis George quietly appointed a parish priest to serve as the city’s first full-time Satan-buster. He was sent to Rome-"thrown into the deep end,” he says-and assisted in some eight exorcisms. He and the cardinal had agreed that it would be best for him to remain anonymous, and today even most of his own parishioners do not know about his extra duties. (Chicago magazine agreed to withhold his identity.)

As one of 18 Catholic exorcists in the United States, the priest, 52, an associate pastor at a church in Chicago, helps those who have been possessed by an evil spirit that, in the worst cases, causes ordinary people to spit, vomit, curse, or behave indecently or even violently. Growing up on Chicago’s Far Southwest Side, he took the traditional priestly route, attending Quigley South, Niles College, and the seminary in Mundelein. “Never, in a million years,” he says, “would I have thought that this would be my calling.”

The priest says he gets about 25 referrals a month, though many of those calls are resolved medically or psychologically. He says he has performed “about ten” bona fide exorcisms in the past year. Armed with religious artifacts, the exorcist, working with an assistant, prays for the intercession of saints and help from the Virgin Mary to cast out the demons. The key, he says, is pushing the evil entity’s buttons. “We provoke him and keep hammering away through prayer,” he says. “It’s much more subtle than Hollywood would have you believe.”

The most rewarding aspect of his work? The good guys always win. “You’re watching God at work, and the forces of good against evil,” he says. “Every exorcism I do . . . only deepens my faith.”

-A. H.

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