Who is Father Andrew Kolzow?
Father Andrew Kolzow was born in 1929 in a Jewish hospital in Chicago, Illinois to a German Protestant father and a Swedish Irish mother. The third of six children, he grew up on the West Side in Downers Grove very poor because of the Depression. His family sometimes didn’t have what they needed let alone what they wanted. The Depression, as Father puts it, was a gift in disguise because it caused him to work hard and learn what service to others meant. His family raised their own food by gardening, raising chickens, raking leaves, and shoveling snow. Along with his father and uncles, Father Andrew worked at a cemetery and ushered at a local theater. Father Andrew also served drinks in a bar at aged thirteen to earn extra money. There was no such thing as an allowance.Habits of self-sacrifice and giving learned along the way contributed to his service attitude. However, Father Andrew jokes he learned at an early age who ran the world: women! His two older sisters used to hold him down and tickle him until he was sick.
Road to the Dominicans
No one thought he would become a priest because he didn’t grow up in what was called at the time a “Catholic Ghetto” situation. Only his mother and one other grandparent was Catholic. His father sent him to a public kindergarten and then a parochial school. Tuition was $1.00 a month but sometimes that was hard to pay because of the Depression. But they managed. After he graduated from high school, he attended Cornell College for 1 year but being a Methodist college, they were dismissive of his Catholic faith. He was disappointed he wasn’t strong enough to withstand the criticism of his faith. However, one professor thought he would be best served going to a Catholic University. He suggested that Father Andrew needed to investigate the intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church. With that he transferred to DePaul University in Chicago…the poor man’s Harvard as Father puts it. He commuted three hours a day, which was hard because Father Andrew calls himself a country boy at heart and taking the train into a dirty city neighborhood didn’t appeal to him. While at DePaul, Father Andrew started thinking about the religious life his junior year. Father Andrew said, “The sky didn’t open and I wasn’t tapped on the head or shoulder by the Heavens.” He had taken classes in Latin, theology, and philosophy and was still dating some and upon graduation in 1951 he thought he would give the priesthood a try. He was familiar with several different orders but he settled on the Dominican Order. He entered a trial year to investigate whether the religious life was for him. That trial continued and he was ordained in 1958. Father decided he wanted to do mission work in Bolivia or Nigeria. However, his Provincial said that was very admirable but they needed him at the high school in suburban Chicago. His dream of serving other took a turn he didn’t expect. He taught 2 years with over 200 students per day and eventually advanced into administration in charge of all counseling and testing. Teaching wasn’t out of the realm for a Dominican because the order was famed for intellectual pursuits in addition to preaching the Gospel. If you Google Father Andrew, you will find his name associated with one such intellectual endeavor because he translated The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic from the original Latin text. This was no easy feat but being fluent in Latin Father says he muddled through. This translation is forever preserved in the Vatican archives. Unfortunately, his teaching and other intellectual pursuits almost came to halt in February 1975. An illness called Amoebic Dysentery forced Father to resign his post and he convalesced in Tucson, Arizona. After his recovery, Father Andrew continued his service in Arizona for almost two years. His translation skills came into action a few years later when he was called upon to bless a new home. The family wanted to use an ancient Roman rite that was in Spanish. According to Ann Miesch, who witnessed the blessing, said, “Father took one look at the prayers and just rattled off this beautiful ritual without ever studying it prior to the event.” Ann also added, “It was so easy for him because He knows so many languages in addition to Latin. Father will go from speaking Italian to Portuguese in the middle of a conversation and ask you if you know what he means.” Ann said she never does. She went on to explain how Father Andrew is so easy to talk to and he is comfortable with someone as young as six and as old he is. His wisdom and knowledge is evident in every conversation. He exudes the Dominican spirit.
Change is good
That spirit has carried Father through all these years and he has seen a lot of changes in the church starting with the year of his ordination in 1958. That same year, John XXIII was elected pope. Thinking back to Pope John XXIII when he was Nuncio in Paris, Father said, “Look at this! He is at a diplomatic reception with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in another! He’s pope now? How is this possible? Father said the pope didn’t appear quite human. “Quite the contrary. He was very human, a wonderful human.” John XXIII was also a historian and called the second Vatican Counsel. “Aggiornamento…to bring things up to date so the spirit can fly in,” according to Father Andrew. This was a hard time because change came to quickly to the church and a lot of people do not respond well to change. “People became fearful and some pushed the envelope to far in interpreting church teachings.” However, each pope has continued the progression toward an open dialogue in the church. Change can often cause people to lose faith. Throughout the years, Father Andrew has maintained a steadfast faith amidst the pressures of an administrator and controversies surrounding the church such as the sexual abuse scandal. Father said, “You do your prayer. You pray with humility.” Some of the younger priest couldn’t take the pressure and left the order. As with any controversy, Father Andrew feels the media has magnified the abuse scandal and caused a lot of stress on the church. “No one denies there is a problem but the magnification is of undue proportion.” Father Andrew goes on to say this magnification has caused people to suspect every priest and religious who are good and pure. He likened it to the masses being blamed for the sins of a few. In Father’s experience, sexual abuse has mainly come from immediate family and close family friends. As a result of the scandals, Father said, “I cannot minister to any parish without letters of verification being faxed to the parish ahead of time testifying that I am a religious in good standing.”
Fast forward to 2013 and Father Andrew is on his sixth pope. There has been a lot of talk about the Catholic Church not wavering on doctrine concerning gay marriage. Pope Francis made a recent comment saying it is not for him to judge anyone. Father Andrew explained it in these simple terms, “Charity is universal. We’re Catholic which means universal.” “The basic law of charity is love they neighbor as thy self.” “Jesus is asked by the young lawyer and who is my neighbor? Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.” “Jesus tells us the one who is truly our neighbor is the one who has compassion.” Father goes on to explain that we are called to have compassion for our fellow-man. “It is not for us to sit in judgment but to have compassion.” “We are our brothers keeper. We are responsible for our brothers no matter who they are or how much of a pain they are.” Father, like the Pope, adheres to the church teaching of marriage between a man and a woman but says that Pope Francis means we are not to discriminate against or deal harshly, unjustly, and uncharitably with gays or anyone else different from ourselves. We have to respect people.
When asked what changes he would like to see in the church, Father Andrew says he would like to see a push in evangelization. “Pope Francis’s mission is to move the Bishops of the church and the young people toward more evangelization.” “It is the mission of the church.” “We are all called to pray and evangelize.” “On the local level is where the church exist and where it grows; not just in the headlines.” Father says where we need to start is to become like the Good Samaritan. Be ready and willing to be involved. Father Andrew says we need not be afraid to recognize the implications of being involved. Getting involved has been Father’s legacy in the Dominican Order. I asked him how he wanted to be remembered for his service and he said, “He tried to be a good and faithful servant.” “That is all one can ask for.”
Yes Father Andrew, that is how we will remember you.