Winnetka Way: Father Tom Ventura

Gazette Article by: Father Tom Ventura
Appeared in the Gazette: Summer 1999

Winnetka Way articles are written by guest columnists who have been asked to share their memories of an aspect of Winnetka that they remember fondly. Winnetka Way articles debuted in 1994 and continue to the present.

Glancing at my name tag, the man raised an eyebrow and said, “Oh, you’re at Saints Faith, Hope, and Cadillac. How can you save your soul working with all those cake-eaters on the North Shore?”

Occasionally, a few shots like that cross my bow. People remind me that Jesus once said that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That comment is daunting for those of us who live in affluent areas.

Nonetheless, before accepting this appointment I was helped by some comments in the Personnel Board’s report on an open meeting with parishioners who described the kind of pastor they needed. One wry gentleman, for example, wanted someone with the business acumen of Lee Iaccoca and the spiritual depth of St. Francis of Assisi. (They got me instead).

But other comments caught my attention. One said, “Just because we live in large homes or drive big cars doesn’t mean we don’t worry as much as any other parent when a child is seriously ill or a teen is struggling with drugs or a marriage is falling apart.”
Another said, “Not everyone in Winnetka is a millionaire. Some of us are over our heads in debt or out of work or wrestling with alcoholism. Don’t stereotype us.”

In my 8 ½ years here, I’ve learned the truth of all of those insights. But I’ve also been impressed by the extraordinary generosity here. In fact, priests from other affluent areas have asked me about it. Of course, the old 80/20 formula applies. In any effort, 20 percent of the folks donate 80 percent of the resources. But there seems to be a special element of compassion here. Perhaps it is symbolized by two statues.

One is the statue of St. Dismas, the Good Thief, in our parish church. He hung on the cross next to Jesus on Calvary. Despite a life of crime, he cried out at the last moment, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Our Lord replied, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Usually, statues of St. Dismas are found only in chapels at prisons and penitentiaries. Why is he in our church? I think it grows out of an awareness by the founders of our parish that in this village of “winners” we are well advised to be compassionate to the “losers” because, with a twist of fate, we could easily join their ranks. They are not strangers or aliens, but our own brothers and sisters.

The second statue is at the corner of Sheridan Road and Lloyd Place. A homeless man sits in exhaustion. It bears the words of Henry Demarest Lloyd, who moved to Winnetka in 1878, espoused Socialism, and counted among his circle of friends Jane Addams, Booker T. Washington, and Horace Greeley. The inscription reads, “No tenements for some and castles for others…Society should give every man a chance to earn his daily bread…”

Like Dismas, a statue inspired by a Socialist may seem out of place in Winnetka. But that’s the point. There is compassion here as well as wealth, generosity as well as self-indulgence. We have Faith, Hope, and Charity as well as Faith, Hope, and Cadillacs.

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