[Shaw Media file photo]
“I lived together with him at the same parish [Holy Trinity Parish in Westmont] from 1958 to 1962 when he came from Rome after his ordination,” Lennon said. “One of the things that struck me was that, every Friday evening or Saturday morning, he would come into my room and said, ‘Jim, will you listen to my homily before I have to preach it at Mass tomorrow? I want to improve my English so that the people can understand me and know that I am very happy to be with them in this faith community.’”
Lennon said that story illustrates Memenas’ tremendous humility. Memenas also retained enormous loyalty to Lithuania, his homeland, throughout his priestly ministry “of well over 60 years,” Lennon said.
“He gave financial assistance to the bishops in Lithuania and to help children in orphanages and residents in retirement homes and anyone in need of a little TLC,” Lennon said.
After Memenas became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Gibson City and the mission church St. George in Melvin, Lennon would visit and celebrate Mass with him, Lennon said.
Memenas later served as pastor at St Mary Church in Mokena (1972), St. Patrick Church in Joliet (1978) and St. Anthony Church in Frankfort (1999), where he served until his retirement.
In his early years, Memenas served as associate pastor at Visitation Parish in Elmhurst (1957), Holy Trinity in Westmont (1958), St. Anthony Parish in Joliet (1962) and St. Dennis Church in Lockport (1967).
In retirement, Memenas was temporary administrator at the Church of St. Anthony in Joliet.
But Lennon feels an event in the early years of their friendship bonded them in a special way. Memenas’ father had been a police officer in Lithuania. The family fled during World War II and spent five years in a German refugee camp.
After earning a scholarship to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Memenas left his family for seven years to concentrate on his studies. Meanwhile his family came to Chicago and settled in Riverside, Lennon said.
In 1960, Memenas’ father died suddenly of a heart attack. Memenas’ widowed mother and sister remained in Riverside.
“As we got closer to Christmas of that year – 1960 – my own dear mother suggested to me, ‘Invite Father Vytas, his mother and sister to come to Joliet for Christmas dinner.’ And they accepted,” Lennon said. “Mrs. Memenas spoke very little English. My mother is originally from Boston and had that accent. But the two of them got along very well. And I think that type of bonding cemented a friendship because it meant so much to Father Vytas and his family that first Christmas not to be alone.”
Lennon feels that “goes to show the importance of friendship.”
“They sustain us through times of trial as well as times of joy,” he said.
That statement is also reflective of Memenas’ legacy, he feels.
“In addition to being a great priest of God, his legacy was his great devotion to policemen and women,” Lennon said. “He went out of his way to be present to them in times of sorrow and sadness. Much of that, I’m sure, because the fabric of his life because he knew what his own father had through as a policeman in Lithuania.”
• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or email@example.com.