It seems like yesterday that St. Mary was welcoming Father Mark Bernhard as its new parochial vicar. Now, one year later, the parish is saying goodbye as Father Mark leaves to become pastor of Notre Dame Church in Clarendon Hills, IL.
From keeping St. Mary ministry active during the Covid-19 pandemic, to founding the Fit Shepherds group, to instituting the monthly “Behold” Adoration event, to teaching school and R.E. students the faith, to so much more, Father Mark has managed to pack several years of selfless service into one. Perhaps most impactful of all were his homilies, widely regarded as engaging, inspiring, but also eye opening as they sought to address real-world problems faced by modern Christians.
After celebrating his final 11:00 AM Mass on Sunday, June 20, Father Mark went downstairs to a special farewell reception organized by the St. Mary Council of Catholic Women. Throngs of parishioners waited in a line stretching from the narthex to the Church Hall, all eager to see their beloved priest one last time.
After nearly an hour of goodbyes, Father Mark sat down to reflect on his time at St. Mary.
How has St. Mary made you a better priest? What have you learned in the past year?
“St. Mary has helped me become a better priest by calling me to greater sacrifice. I’ve witnessed all the awesome families here at St. Mary who make daily sacrifices for their loved ones. Their example and witness inspires me to sacrifice and to give more of myself. My experience here has truly expanded my heart and helped me to love more.”
If you leave one mark on St. Mary, what do you hope it is? In other words, what’s something you hope you accomplished?
“I hope that I’ve effectively conveyed the simple Gospel truth of Jesus dying on the cross for our salvation and the importance of surrendering our life to Him and making Him our number one priority at all times.”
What will you miss most about St. Mary?
“I will miss the people of St. Mary the most and the relationships I’ve made here. They are what makes it most difficult to leave.”
What won’t you miss?
“Father Dindo’s dogs.”
What advice do you have for Fr. Sam as he soon begins his first assignment at St. Mary?
“This being Father Sam’s first year, I’d advise him to be patient with himself, especially in terms of growing into and learning how to be a priest. I would also advise him to be quick to learn from the people and receive the love that they want to give him as their priest. I also encourage him to sacrifice every day, to lay it all out and give everything as a good father would.”
What would you say to those parishioners who are disappointed to see you go after only one year?
“There is precedent at St. Mary for parochial vicars to eventually return as pastors. Father Dindo and I have hopes that this might happen in my case. Stay tuned.
I also encourage everyone to keep up with me on my YouTube channel and podcast to stay in touch that way.”
Subscribe to Father Mark’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY6rLCYx-BNe1iR-Zbm9OKA
Subscribe to Father Mark’s Podcast: https://frmarkbernhard.podbean.com/
Parishioners Share Memories of Father Mark
As much as Father Mark will miss St. Mary, the parish will miss him equally as much, if not more.
Below is a collection of memories from members of St. Mary, both young and old, of how Father Mark impacted them.
“Fr. Mark is a fantastic priest and awesome brother to me in every way. He has helped his pastor in so many ways! I love our teamwork that makes the dream work. One story I have was when we were having dinner and one of my dogs would come to him looking for a little bite! He would look at them, smile and say ‘Your Dad wants you!’ But that always makes the dogs want to go to him more. I think deep down he loves them, because why would he always talk about them in his homilies?“
-Father Dindo Billote, pastor
“Dear Father Mark, thank you so much for everything you have done at St Mary. You inspired me and my family so much because of how kind, loving, and holy you are. We love your Homilies and how you explained them. I will miss you, your homilies and receiving the host from you. From your holy friend,”
-Elin, second grader
“I will miss his timely and ‘on point’ homilies steeped in Catholic Doctrine and his great sense of humor. Fr. Mark’s engagement with all age groups and members of our parish community was outstanding!”
-Ted Kopczynski, parish council president
“My second grade RE class has never been as inspired as this year with Father Mark. Beginning with his visits to the classroom, celebrating the Mass, his wonderful homilies and finally taking time out of his busy schedule to attend our end-of-the-year performance… we have been truly blessed!
We are saddened that he is leaving us, but we know that we cannot be selfish and we must share the gift of Father Mark with others. Congratulations on your new assignment as pastor of the Notre Dame Parish. God has chosen you to shepherd a new flock. May God bless you and may you always know that you are missed and loved by many.”
-Mrs. Jane, second grade catechist
“Father Mark has brought a palatable tenacity balanced with docility to the Holy Spirit that many men do not realize is possible when we live clinging to Christ. Clearly, Fr. Mark has let grace build upon his nature. As such, Father has given witness to the men involved with Fit Shepherds in a special way. With Fit Shepherds, I have seen men build each other up, exhaust together, cry in front of each other, and open their hearts up to the Lord. Father is responsible for a ministry that has brought innumerable graces to men committed to be shepherds.
Thank you, Father Mark.”
-Michael Larson, parishioner and member of Fit Shepherds
“I am the maintenance supervisor here. I enjoyed our conversations about sports, especially baseball. He was Cubs, I was Sox. He was always willing to help without being asked. His interaction with the kids was nice to see. I’m not sure who had more fun, them or him. I will miss him.”
-Dave Bridges, Maintenance Supervisor
“We love father Mark and are sad to see him go.”
-Iris, second grader
“I find it hard to think of any aspect of the parish that Fr. Mark has not profoundly affected. He always put the parishioners first, ahead of himself. He conducted himself with utmost humility and reverence. His supportive, encouraging, prayerful, and communicative manner connected with parishioners of all ages. Personally, he challenged me in a ‘let’s just do it’ kind of way, and always made me feel like I mattered. He truly has left his mark on the parish.
Thank you, Fr. Mark!”
-Bob Cornejo, liturgy director
“There are many things I will miss about Fr. Mark, however him challenging me to increase my relationship with God and listen to him speak are the top two.”
-Dan Draus, usher
“Father Mark taught me that I could be a good Catholic student. He is nice and can play basketball super well.”
-Penelope, second grader
“Seeing him where the altar servers sit prior to Mass, praying or contemplating his homily. Also, how he kneels for a few minutes to pray just prior to our procession.
Those simple things help to remind me about the sacredness of what we are about to celebrate.”
-Deacon John Rex
“Out of everything that Fr. Mark has brought to St. Mary parish in his year here, I think that the two most important have been a stronger cultivation and recognition for our Lord in the Eucharist and his Fit Shepherds Catholic workout group for men. I have heard how people have experienced conversions from the Behold Eucharistic adoration evenings and how their eyes were opened to Jesus Christ Our King in the Eucharist. I also know that Fit Shepherds has been a wonderful ministry to build up men to be strong in body as well as in their spirituality.”
-Anna Pacek, director of sacred music
“St. Mary School will greatly miss Fr. Mark. We are so very thankful for the many hours he has spent with students sharing his faith and love. Students will especially miss racing him during recess, watching him walk on his hands, and his greetings as the school day began and ended. The students of Notre Dame School are blessed to welcome Fr. Mark into their school and parish.”
-Jeanne Wolski, interim school principal
“Father Mark is a blessing to Saint Mary. His homilies are awesome; they are relatable, relevant to the readings and Gospel, build one on another, filled with passion, and provide insight into true, deeper meanings. He inspires me to be more – more holy, more Christ centered, a better person. He is full of energy and great with everyone: men, women, old, young, especially kids. He is the epitome of a Catholic priest. Father Mark is on fire for Jesus Christ and lives his faith; you can see it in his actions and hear it in his words. I love that.”
-Sandi Cornejo, parishioner
“Father Mark was very kind, very nice and helped us learn about Jesus.”
-Ella, second grader
“Fr. Mark has been shepherding us this past year and has opened our eyes to many things. I’ve especially enjoyed all his sermons. He is ready to tend to his new sheep as Pastor and guide them. He will be phenomenal. He will certainly be missed around our Parish. God Bless Fr. Mark.”
-Leticia Clark, recording secretary
“Fr. Mark is so good at noticing–noticing the problem that needs to be solved, the newcomer looking for belonging, and the talents of those around him. He is not shy about asking the hard question or having an unpopular opinion, which really encourages growth, but also infuses every conversation with humor.
Brandon and I greatly appreciated Fr. Mark’s willingness to dive right into the life of our parish, even knowing he wouldn’t be with us long. He was so encouraging of us as parents to young children, noting in his homilies the hardships we encounter and giving practical advice on strengthening and living out our faith. We are so grateful for his time at St. Mary and the positive impact he had on our parish.”
-Danielle Kuboushek, adult formation coordinator
“Father Mark was very nice and a good father. He taught me a lot and I will miss him.”
-Scotty, second grader
“I am so grateful and impressed at the incredible ministry he was able to engage in despite the challenges public health mandates surrounding COVID-19 presented. In my work as the Director of Religious Education, I have witnessed, firsthand, Fr. Mark’s unbounded care for families, for the men and women heroically living out the vocation of marriage and family life in an increasingly secular world. Fr. Mark’s love of the family is God’s gift to us, His faithful people. God Bless you on the occasion of your first Pastorate, Fr. Mark!”
-Christopher Aust, director religious education
“Father Mark inspired me how to be a better person to other people and family.”
-Teagan, second grader
“One of my greatest memories of Fr. Mark is how he continued carrying out his vocation as priest when Covid came. He was not afraid and knew that his vocation as priest was to administer the sacraments. He never refused to give communion, hear confessions, visit the sick (even those with Covid) and continue to minister in other ways. He would say that his job as a priest was to make the sacraments available and he fearlessly carried that out.”
-Simonetta Morrow, associate director of sacred music
“As St Mary’s church sacristan, I was honored and blessed to work with Fr Mark for the past year. One of the countless things that touched me about Fr Mark [was his] lesson of humility, care, and total conscience of appreciating the value of everything around us without wasting even the littlest things that we take for granted. Part of my job as a sacristan [is checking] the confessionals regularly [and] making sure there’s always a fresh water bottle in there. When Fr. Mark noticed [me] replacing the water bottle with a new one before [it was] completely empty, He asked me not to replace it but keep it there until it’s totally empty. His words were, ‘It’s good water, don t waste it, I don’t like wasting.’
I wish we all learn from Fr Mark his care, humility, and awareness about never wasting good gifts from our Lord, even some old water! I believe that those little daily things can reveal the real values and qualities of a person and a priest.
Thank you and God Bless Fr Mark!”
-Zina Habib, sacristan
“Father Mark taught me to always follow Jesus, unplug for 40 days, about my first Eucharist and Go Cubs! Me and my family will miss you dearly.”
-Tony, second grader
“Father Mark changed someone very close to me. They now believe again and follow in his footsteps. It’s amazing how he can change someone so quickly with his words. I can’t thank him enough!
Father Mark has changed me and made me so much stronger. His messages at Fit Shepard’s make you want to be a better person and, for the record, I did beat him multiple times at ‘Around the World.’”
-Stephen Warunek, business manager
“It was refreshing to have a priestly role model near my age like Father Mark, who tackled the tough questions during every homily and inspired young people to fearlessly lead a Christian life in today’s world. He has a rare gift of understanding and connecting with everyone he meets, no matter their stage of life or situation. Father Mark, thank you for being a supportive, encouraging, and real role model.”
-Tony Bara, parishioner