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2 great priests stay in 2 great parishes

Updated: March 9, 2012 8:12AM

Is it possible that Cardinal Francis George and the Rev. Michael Pfleger have finally found a peaceful path they can walk together?

Glory hallelujah — maybe.

But life is complicated.

And so is the cardinal’s decision to appoint Pfleger as administrator — short term — at the parish of the Rev. Daniel Mallette, a legendary pastor.

On the one hand, Pfleger, 62, and Mallette, 80, have much in common. Mallette, who is white, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. back in the 1960s when Pfleger, also white, was an altar server being inspired by King.

Both pastors have given their lives to parishes on Chicago’s South and Southwest sides. Pfleger’s St. Sabina is mostly African American. Mallette’s St. Margaret of Scotland is black, white and Asian.

Each man has battled the violence of the neighborhood killing field surrounding his church.

It was in December that Mallette, asleep in his bed in the rectory, was confronted by two men who beat him, stole his money for the poor, and then asked him to pray for them. And he, of course, did.

Mike Pfleger was among the first to rush to Dan Mallette’s side to offer help and support.

They have one more thing in common. Both have felt the archdiocese was trying to move them out of their parishes for no good reason and to no good purpose. Pfleger has said so. Mallette’s congregation, meanwhile, has long worried about keeping its own pastor.

These two men have saved souls and lives and fortified neighborhoods.

To his credit, the cardinal has found a compromise that keeps Pfleger at St. Sabina as a “co-pastor”; honors his mission by putting him in charge of a new archdiocesan anti-violence initiative, and yet also re-assigns him to temporarily “administer” St. Margaret of Scotland.

Mallette, according to the announcement, will remain at St. Margaret as pastor emeritus even after a new pastor is named in June.

So what’s complicated about any of this? Fathers Mallette and Pfleger, for all the things they hold in common, are very different priests and pastors.

Pfleger, the radical disciple, preaches like a fire-breathing Baptist while Mallette is stylistically low-key, low-profile and more conservative.

Some white parishioners at St. Margaret, moreover, are still stung by Pfleger’s charge that in 2001 his black student athletes were subjected to racism from some in the Southside Catholic Conference.

And this announcement comes without warning for people who attend St. Margaret.

Though Mallette said the cardinal gave him a heads-up on Saturday but “swore me to secrecy,” he said no one told him the announcement would come this fast.

“I got a call Tuesday,” he said by phone from the rectory. “It sounded like a nun. She said the announcement was being made.
. . . I said I was surprised.”

On Tuesday evening, Pfleger was meeting with his own parishioners to give them the news.

It will be an adjustment for everyone. And yet, my own feeling is that the cardinal — of whom I have often been critical — is trying to hit the “reset” button on some earlier controversies. And offer a good, respectful way to keep two great priests part of two great parishes as much as possible.

If so, praise be.

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