The résumé of Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki includes undergraduate and graduate degrees, and doctorates in civil law and canon law. Among ministerial duties are pastor and associate pastor, teacher, coach, professor, chaplain and dean of students. But it is the perspective of his sister, Mary “Penny” Listecki, and several of their cousins that provides a personal look at the older of Harry and Alfreda Listecki’s children – a look that doesn’t easily fit the bullet-point format of one’s curriculum vitae.
Claudia Shrevis, whose father and the archbishop’s mother were brother and sister, recalled Jerome – to family members he is always Jerome, never Jerry – was appointed by his mother to watch his younger cousin, which he did without complaining, whenever the families got together.
“He had to make sure nothing happened to me; he did it well,” she said, adding, “He still looks out for me.”
The Wheaton, Ill. resident said that when the future archbishop organized activities for the cousins, they went along “because if Jerome said it was a good idea, you felt it was a good idea.”
“He was a good leader, even then,” Shrevis said. “He was the boss, but not bossy. He would lose his audience pretty quick if he had gotten bossy.”
Christine Murphy, a second cousin of the archbishop and his goddaughter, recalled “Uncle Jerome” doing “something very sweet” for her and her two sisters.
“He’d send us jewelry. It was good jewelry that I still have,” said the Waukesha resident. “And he would send us flowers.”
She said he would visit their family in Palos Hills, a Chicago suburb, have dinner with them and play with the girls.
“He is real easy to talk with, sort of easy going,” Murphy said.
Christine’s mother, Arlene Murphy, described her cousin as “energetic” and “interested in everything.”
“And he remembered everything. He had total recall,” she said.
From his days at St. Michael the Archangel School through his studies in Rome, the archbishop “always loved school,” according to his sister.
“He loved education; he loved researching things. There wasn’t anything about school he didn’t like,” Penny said. He completed his undergraduate studies at Niles College of Loyola University in three years and studied civil law and theology simultaneously, earning degrees in each.
“He was very much a student, very well-rounded,” she said, noting the variety of additional courses – from science to 13th century literature – he took merely out of interest.
As Penny is only 11 months younger than her brother – he calls her his “Polish twin” – the siblings have a close relationship.
“As a brother, he was always there,” she said. “Even when I got into trouble, he would shield me: ‘No, ma, it wasn’t really her fault.’”
He came to the rescue of his former dance partner – they had taken dance lessons in the mid-1950s – when, as a freshman at St. Michael High School, she wanted to attend a dance. Her dad wouldn’t allow her to date or to group date, so she couldn’t attend.
“He had to take me or otherwise I couldn’t go,” Penny said. “And he did it because I wanted to go so bad. He didn’t mind.”
Sports in all seasons
Until he had a hip replaced, Archbishop Listecki had played a variety of sports competitively, including baseball and basketball at the high school and college levels.
While noting that young Jerome was academically accomplished, religious and charming, Arlene Murphy saw another side of him on the court and field.
“Sports? Oh, he took on a different hat. That was competition time,” she said of the intensity with which he competed, particularly in basketball.
Sports was a topic he would often discuss with his cousin Harry Kasprzyk.
“We were always football fans,” Kasprzyk said of his family. “We would discuss what sport was tougher – basketball vs. football. Jerome was a basketball player.”
According to Penny, she and her brother were “baseball fanatics. We love the White Sox.”
“Everybody knew Jerome’s favorite player was Minnie Minoso,” said Penny of the three-time Gold Glove Award winner and seven-time All-Star selection who did four stints with the Sox.
As the Sox were pursuing the American League Central championship in 2005, brother would call sister for updates on games while he was driving.
“Due to the bluffs, he couldn’t always get the broadcasts so I’d tell him what was happening in the game,” she recalled.
When the Sox made it to the World Series for the first time since 1959, Archbishop Listecki was offered “great tickets” to the games, according to his sister.
“But he was committed to confirmations and to his work in the Diocese of La Crosse, and he did not come home,” she said.
Happy, humble priest
A story that is part of family history, and which has been confirmed by the archbishop, is that when he was 3 years old, someone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. A cassock-wearing priest walked by about that time, and young Jerome said, “I want to be a priest.”
“He was going to be a priest from the day he could talk. There was no question. Absolutely no question. My dad made a bet that he wasn’t going to become a priest, and sure enough, he paid up. Because that was just a stupid bet because everyone knew he was going to be a priest” Shrevis said. Penny concurred.
“That’s all he ever wanted to be. He said it out loud, ‘I’m going to be a priest,’” she said, noting that he prays daily for vocations.
According to his sister, not only did he answer the call to priesthood, but he did it joyfully.
“He’s always a happy priest,” she said. “That’s a plus right there. That’s why he was at the seminary so long because he enjoys what he does and that joy has to come out when people see you.”
Penny said that her parents were proud of their priest son, but they helped him keep it in perspective.
“My father’s (a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver) big joke was when Jerome was ordained a priest, ‘Yeah, yeah, Jerome, you’re going to get people to pray, but I’ll bet you I’ll have more people praying.’
“‘What do you mean, pa?’
“‘Well, when they get on my bus, they pray, and then they pray to get off the bus.’”
Describing her brother as “humble,” she said family members helped keep him that way.
“He came home after being named a bishop, and our mother said, ‘You know, Jerome, the garbage needs to be taken out. Yeah, you’re a bishop, we know that, and we’re very proud of you, but now we have to do this,’” Penny recalled.
Those who know him would expect he’d take out the garbage, and do anything else that needed to be done.
“He is the hardest working person you’re ever going to meet; he will not ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do,” she said, noting that when he arrived as pastor at St. Ignatius Parish in Chicago, he worked alongside parishioners on clean-up projects.
Penny noted that whatever the church asked of her brother he would do. When she and family members asked him why he couldn’t get an assignment on the south side of Chicago so he’d be closer to home, he replied, “Wherever they want me, that’s where I go. That’s what I do. That’s what I said yes to.”
Kind of archbishop he’ll be
If a lot of people say, “I’m a friend of Archbishop Listecki,” it could be, according to Penny, because “he never severs ties with people. You can almost trace his friendships.”
She noted that the number of people he knows was evident when he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Chicago Jan. 8, 2001.
“He could walk down the aisle of Holy Name Cathedral and name people by name. They came from parishes where he had been,” she said, listing each place he had served from his time as a deacon through his only pastorate.
Shrevis offered one possible reason.
“He’s just everybody’s friend. You can just talk to him. He’s just a person. He’s special without being arrogant. No arrogance whatsoever. He’s very much a people person,” she said.
Kasprzyk said that people shouldn’t be afraid to approach his cousin.
“He will always find time for you. If you think something is important, then he thinks it’s important. And he will find time for you,” he said.
Kasprzyk described the archbishop as “magnetic,” but said it isn’t an attention-getting device for his cousin.
“It’s just the things he says, the things he does, the lifestyle he leads that make you realize how important his religion is to him. And you want to be part of that, too.” Kasprzyk said.
Penny offered a simple explanation.
“He enjoys his work. He enjoys people. He likes working with people,” she said.