When Rev. Matthew Nemchausky learned he would be serving as the new pastor for Mater Christi Catholic Church in North Riverside, he probably had no idea how much his arrival would be anticipated by the small suburban parish.
This summer, Nemchausky was selected by the Archdiocese of Chicago to fill the parish’s permanent vacancy left by Rev. Louis Tylka in June 2014.
Following Tylka’s nine-year tenure at Mater Christi, uncertainty followed in a parish that prides itself on camaraderie and family legacy.
The archdiocese’s first choice for a replacement was Rev. Jack Sullivan, who faced mixed reviews from parishioners. Some even went as far as to leave Mater Christi until Sullivan was no longer in charge and some petitioned the archdiocese to assign him out of Mater Christi.
While it’s unclear exactly what caused the archdiocese to make the change, Sullivan announced his departure in the spring of 2015, saying he was moving to Oklahoma. The archdiocese then turned to Rev. William Stenzel to calm the waters at Mater Christi while church officials sought a permanent pastor.
Stenzel and a temporary associate, Rev. Francis Bitterman, spent about a year the church. In June, Nemchausky officially became the church’s pastor and celebrated his first mass at Mater Christi.
The 32-year-old priest comes to Mater Christi after just his first six-year assignment at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in south suburban Evergreen Park.
Nemchausky, who hails from Chicago near Midway Airport, began his journey to the priesthood by attending high school at Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary. He then attended Loyola University’s St. Joseph College Seminary and spent five years at St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. He became an ordained diocesan priest in May of 2009.
He credited his aunt, a Benedictine nun, as an influence in him becoming a priest.
After his assignment at Most Holy Redeemer, the archdiocese’s placement board helped place him at Mater Christi based on a number of matching factors including personality, experience, skills and personal preference.
Even though Nemchausky does not have a solid list of goals to achieve during his tenure at Mater Christi, he hopes to lead through demonstrating an importance of involvement, understanding of God and fostering stewardship.
“A lot of it is just getting to know how the parish works, see how things are going and then from there, see how I can help improve or step back so the mission of the church can be proclaimed,” he said.
Nemchausky also hopes to use his age as a way to keep younger parishioners involved and demonstrate a passion for community that is well-received by older members.
“I’m working with youth at Mater Christi to see if there’s a necessity for a youth group here for those that are teenagers or young adults,” he said. “To see younger priests and younger sisters, someone can go ‘OK, [church] can be for me too.'”
To reach out to more area Catholics, Nemchausky is also exploring social media as a way to distribute information on Mass times and parish events.
Thus far, Nemchausky’s presence has been welcomed and appreciated by both younger and older parishioners.
Bryant Rouleau, who has belonged to the parish with his family his whole life and performs maintenance duties for Mater Christi, says he is excited to have a young pastor for the community.
“He is a new breath of fresh air with new ideas,” Rouleau said. “He will keep the church moving in the right direction.”
Fifty-year parishioner and North Riversider Carlene O’Brien agreed with Rouleau, saying she liked Nemchausky’s energy from the beginning.
“I really liked Father Matt right from the get-go,” she said. “He’s personable, he’s kind and he will do wonders for the parish like Father Bill and Father Francis.”
Tom Corgiat, a parishioner for 40 years and a member of Mater Christi’s finance committee, says Nemchausky has the church headed in the right direction, following Stenzel and Bitterman’s lead.
“Father Bill did a wonderful job getting us back on track,” Corgiat said. “Our collections are up. I’m glad we’ve got a nice, young, interested man coming through our church [because] that’s what we need. He’s very energetic. He’s got a lot of work to do and we’re going to help him.”
When he’s not presiding over Mass or getting to know Mater Christi’s inner workings, Nemchausky can be found discovering North Riverside on bike and foot.
“I’ve walked in the area and on the trails and it’s very beautiful,” he added. “I’m still exploring and people have offered restaurants and things to try. The library is fantastic and the community has great people. I’m excited to learn more and meet more people.”