The Rev. Mark Fracaro loved theater so much that he had season passes to at least four theaters in Chicago, said Robert Weierman, Fracaro’s cousin and deacon at St. Dennis Catholic Church in Lockport.
“Twice a week he’d make a trip into Chicago, which would include two movies and a play or perhaps two plays and a movie,” Weierman said. “About once every year, or twice if I was up to it, I’d go with him, and he would wear me out. I don’t know how he did it. He would walk so much and do so much in one day, and get ready to do it the next day. He was continually on the go.”
Fracaro took Weierman to theaters Weierman never knew existed, theaters that didn’t look like theaters. Once, Weierman asked Fracaro how many theaters Chicago had.
“He said, ‘About 75,’ ” Weierman said.
The Rev. Lee Bacchi, chaplain at St. Edward Hospital in Naperville who considered himself Fracaro’s best friend, said he spent nearly every day off with Fracaro for more than 35 years, and most of them were spent enjoying films and theater performances.
Of course, Fracaro always stood out on Chicago streets, Bacchi said, because of his penchant for signature hats.
“People would stop him and say, ‘That’s a really neat hat you’ve got on,’ ” Bacchi said. “That happened dozens and dozens of times.”
Fracaro also enjoyed acting with different community theater groups. Bacchi recalled how both he and Fracaro once appeared in “Fiddler on the Roof” in Elmhurst. But Fracaro’s true dedication lay in ministry to others, especially those in the deaf community.
In 1976, the late Bishop Romeo Blanchette of the Diocese of Joliet asked Fracaro, who knew sign language, to temporarily serve in the diocese’s Deaf Apostolate Ministry. But Fracaro loved the ministry and continued it for the rest of his life.
Fracaro signed for events, special Masses and confessions. If Fracaro was celebrating Mass and learned someone in attendance was hearing impaired, he would immediately begin signing the Mass, as well as reciting it, Bacchi said.
“He was involved with deaf ministry before he was ordained,” Bacchi said. “He used to work at a summer camp in the Lockport area somewhere.”
Bacchi met Fracaro when Fracaro was teaching catechism classes for religious education teachers in the diocese. Fracaro impressed Bacchi with his approach to working with people.
“He was very thoughtful, very wise,” Bacchi said. “I couldn’t see him as anything other than a priest, to be perfectly honest.”
Anyone who ever saw Fracaro celebrate Mass, or asked Mark to hear confession or talked to him in a time of crisis would agree, Bacchi said. Many times Fracaro would be late to a meeting with Bacchi with the explanation, “Someone stopped by the church.”
“You could feel there was something more than a human touch there,” Lee said. “There was a grace working through him. God’s grace was working through him. He was just so good; he was someone you could count on.”
Fracaro grew up in the Lockport area as part of the very large “Fracaro clan,” as Weierman called it, and family was very important to him. Fracaro attended St. Dennis School in Lockport, Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago and St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore.
He was ordained May 27, 1967. During his 49 years of priesthood, Fracaro was assigned to nine parishes, including St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Minooka.
A supporter of many charitable organizations, Fracaro also sponsored children living overseas and was an honorary member of the Knights of Columbus. Shortly before his death, Fracaro participated in his eighth World Youth Day in Poland.
Fracaro’s unexpected death Sept. 6 at age 76 left the Diocese of Joliet without a dedicated person to minister to the hearing impaired community, Weierman said. But Weierman likens Fracaro’s passing this way.
“God had a special performance of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ” Weierman said, “and needed him.”
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