October 4, 2015

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending Mass for the
first time with Fr. Elizeo Nthalika presiding.

As Father Brad explained a few weeks ago, Fr. Elizeo (El  la ZAY o)  has come to us from the country of Malawi in central Africa.  He is here for two years to earn his MBA in Project Management from Lewis University.  While his primary goal is to be a  student, Father Elizeo will be a part of our parish life as his schedule allows.

Fr. Elizeo’s well-thought-out homily was all about power and the importance of sharing it--the importance of empowering one another to do well and do good.

It got me thinking about all of the people who have been involved in bringing Fr. Elizeo to us and making him comfortable in our community. 

Getting Fr. Elizeo here in the first place was a brainchild of the Spesia and Murray families.  More than a decade ago, after connecting with another Malawian priest who was in Illinois to get an advanced degree, Lori Spesia and her late husband Doug cultivated a long-standing relationship with the Diocese of Blantyre in Malawi.  Many of the Spesia family members have traveled to Malawi to work and experience all that the country offers.

In the summer of 2014, it was son John Spesia’s turn to go.  He took along his son Peter, his friend Mike Murray and Mike’s son Michael.  John and Mike came back with the idea of   bringing another priest to St. Raymond.  While this situation certainly benefits the priest by educating him so he can better serve his Malawian diocese, there is great benefit to St. Raymond.  Not only do we get clergy help, we all broaden our horizons to understand more about Malawi.  It’s a win-win  situation all around.

I can only imagine the red tape they had to cut through with two countries and two dioceses, but for the past year, John and Mike worked through it with dogged determination.

When we got the official word that Fr. Elizeo was definitely coming, it was time for the rectory staff to get ready for the arrival.  We converted the visitor’s suite into a permanent   residence.  The rooms are what a realtor would call “cozy”, but paint and slip covers and practical things like shelving made a big difference.    Without knowing anything about Fr. Elizeo or what he was bringing from home, we tried to anticipate his needs.  He says we did fine, but Mrs. Nthalika brought up a very polite man.

Since he landed at O’Hare after an 8,400 mile trip, Fr. Elizeo has been under the wings of the Spesia and Murray families.  They have really taken him in as one of their own.  There have been family dinners, cook-outs and outings, but they’ve also made sure all of the practical things were covered like bank accounts and school supplies and computers and phones.

Lori Spesia and Nicole Murray became Fr. Elizeo’s personal shoppers and made sure he has a back-to-school wardrobe.  His only request was “sports shoes.”  All too soon, he’ll need his first pairs of mittens and boots.

For the first month or so, he was chauffeured to classes and Masses at Lewis by Pam and Tom Geary, but the goal is to have him drive himself.

Mary Spesia took on the task of teaching him to drive—American style.  Father Elizeo has a Malawian driver’s license but says there are far fewer streets and much slower traffic back home. (He was too polite to say “and much less aggressive drivers.”)  Just as she did with two teenagers, Mary took him out driving.  She did a great job.  I rode with Father Elizeo last week, and he’s a steady, albeit cautious driver.  It’s just all those streets! Thank goodness for GPS.

Fr. Brad has been instrumental in empowering Fr. Elizeo to do well and do good while he is with us. As Father Elizeo  mentioned in his homily, Fr. Brad has taught him how to set up for Mass, lock and alarm the Cathedral and make a hospital visit.  He’s also taught him about Highly Important Matters like Friday night football, Aurelio’s pizza and Cubs baseball.

Be sure to say hello to Fr. Elizeo when you have a chance. (Don’t worry—he can understand your accent…and if you can’t understand his, he’ll happily repeat himself.)  All who have encountered his gentle ways have been enriched in meeting him.  Here’s to those who have used their power to bring him to us!

Eileen Hooks Gutierrez



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