Greetings of Christ’s peace to the faith community at St. Julie Billiart!
I am Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr. and I am the youngest sibling of five—four boys and one girl. This year I will be celebrating my 50th birthday. My family and I all immigrated from the Philippines in the early 1970s. My father was the first to come. He left the Philippines several months after I was born and settled on the North Side of Chicago. About five years later, my father was able to petition the rest of the family and we followed him to Chicago. The family eventually settled in the Albany Park neighborhood and made St. Edward’s Parish our spiritual home. The family and I have pretty much been on the North Side of Chicago since coming to the States (so, yes, moving to the South Side might be an adjustment for me—LOL)
My journey to the priesthood did not follow the usual route than others simply because I am a product of the Chicago Public Schools. My siblings and I went to Haugan Elementary and then followed the rest of them to Theodore Roosevelt High School. It was only when I entered the college seminary that I had my first encounter with a Catholic school.
Despite going through the Chicago Public School system, the faith life was extremely strong in our household. Yet, we were not actually active in the parish. My mother—who was the strong influence on all of us in matters of faith—made certain that the family always went to Mass on Sundays, Holy Days, and even on our birthdays. She had the family praying the rosary every night and the Catholic culture was very much prevalent in our home and family life. Still, the family and I never really took part in the parish life beyond going to Mass faithfully. So I never grew up personally knowing any priest who encouraged me to consider the priesthood.
I have always told people that my mother was the great influence in my vocation story. It was not that she forced the idea on me. In fact, it was only several months prior to my ordination as a deacon that she had finally shared with me that her secret hope was that at least one of her sons might consider the priesthood. She herself came from a very religious family and it was also my maternal grandmother’s lifelong desire that there be a priest in the family. Like I said, though, my mother only told me about this just before ordination. She never told me prior to that moment because she wanted my decision to be between God and me alone. She was the great influencer simply because she had taught me how to pray. Had I not learned how to pray, I do not think I would have been able to hear God’s call or have the courage to respond.
After high school, I entered the college seminary which was Niles College at the time. I entered in the fall of 1988. It was in the fall of 1989 as I prepared to begin my second year of college that I met a man with whom you are familiar. I speak, of course, about your current pastor and soon to be Bishop of Peoria, Fr. Lou Tylka. He and I were classmates in college and then in the major seminary. We have known one another for at least 30 years. We were both ordained as priests in May 1996 so both of us will be celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2021.
For now, that will be all I will share. I am sure that there will be ample time to share our lives with one another. Until July 1, please know that I will be praying for the parish of St. Julie Billiart as I ask you to pray for me and the parish community that I will be leaving.
God’s peace to you all!
Fr. Tirso S. Villaverde, Jr.