It was only four and a half years ago when a young deacon arrived at St. Mary Parish in Riverside to begin his first assignment. Six months later, Father Michal Lewon was ordained an archdiocesan priest and became the associate pastor of the parish.

He settled in quite easily, and it wasn’t long before the parishioners gravitated to the young priest with the Polish accent and listened intently as he told of his family here and in Poland.

They listened as he related his journey to the priesthood, and how he missed his family still in Poland, particularly his beloved grandmother. They laughed with him as his accent sometimes took a different turn. He was a refreshing addition to the parish.

Father Michal took quickly to the young people, visiting the parish school and teaching a lesson or two. He was present at sports events, proudly wearing a team jersey. He ministered to all ages, visiting the sick, and officiating at wakes, funerals, weddings and baptisms. His ease seemed to transcend his young years. During times of unrest within the parish, he became a stabilizing factor.

Then came the Sunday and in his weekly letter in the bulletin he announced he would be leaving St. Mary’s. It was a shock to all. The young priest who had grown so strongly in his vocation would be leaving to go to minister to two parishes in Chicago Heights, St. Kieran and St. Agnes, and Marian Catholic High School. His job in campus ministry would give him more time to work with young people and teach. It was a hard decision.

In his homily during his last Sunday Masses at St. Mary, he expressed his gratitude to the parish and the many people he had come to know and love. Father Michal reassured the people that he will always remember his first parish, and those in attendance knew they would always remember him.

A reception for Father Michal was held on Sunday in the Oak Room to wish him the best as he continues on his journey. Among the many in attendance was Father Bob Burnell, a former associate pastor at St. Mary’s who recently retired as pastor of St. Hugh Church in Lyons.

Well, Chicago Heights isn’t that far away, but it seems like Father Michal’s stay here was too short. He has a lot to look forward to and one of those things is the day he gets a dog, something he has always wanted. As I would tell him, “Every dog needs a boy!” Now that will be a lucky dog!