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Assumption Spotlights > Assumption Spotlghts - July 2017



Assumption Spotlghts - July 2017



By Ron Tevonian

Unless you are a regular at the 7am Wednesday mass you may not recognize Fr. Fontana as one of our “visiting priests”. Fr. Joe refers to him as “my boss” which makes us wonder who he is and what he does.

He’s the Prior Provincial of the USA Province of Servites. The title “Prior” means “first among brothers” which nicely describes the concept of “servant-leader”. As the religious superior of Servites in the U.S. (mainly Portland, Southern California, Denver and Chicago) as well as Australia and the mission in Zululand, South Africa he is on the road constantly so pinning him down for an interview turned out to be a challenge. (Yes, the geographical mixture is odd, but that is another story about the Servites’ missionary history)

John Fontana was born in Chicago living first in the Austin neighborhood before moving to Cicero and Hillside. His main interests were music, sports, reading and serving Mass at the parish church.  Active in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts he also played piano and enjoyed hiking. He attended a Servite High School (minor seminary) for 2 years and graduated from Fenwick.  He received a college scholarship through the Chicago Tribune, whose newspapers he delivered for a number of years.  His family environment always stressed the importance of the spiritual life but his early interest was in medicine.  The priesthood won out after he first experienced blood (or that’s the way his mother described it)! One role model for the priesthood was the kindly associate pastor who led the altar servers at his parish. Also as he passed by the Servites high school seminary during grade school he was impressed by the camaraderie of the religious community of brothers. They all seemed so happy.

When describing his current job Fr. John responded: “Honestly, I’ve never worked harder, had more challenges, and have had to rely on God more than in the present. I have found leadership to be mostly about serving my brothers, as they serve others.  My work includes: personnel issues, ministry assignments, care of our elders, approval of students throughout their formation (seminary) process; communication with all Servites and often spokesperson for the Servites to others; reminding my brothers about our foundational values and spirit; trying to offer hope in a challenging time of transition/aging/diminishiment in numbers; and (together with others) facing all the challenges of financial administration. I quickly admit that administration is not my gift, but I think my brothers have elected and re-elected me because they find me relational, a good listener, grounded in spirituality, and not authoritarian in style but rather collegial and collaborative (which is a truer model of leadership in the style of Servites).”

Fr. Fontana looks forward to returning to “…preaching, sacramental ministry, and spiritual companionship” when his third term expires. He said “I especially enjoy one-on-one ministry, in which we talk about one’s growing relationship with God, greater freedom and self-acceptance, loving and accepting love, ‘being’ more than ‘doing,’ recognizing God’s presence and grace in ordinary moments, and realizing that most of us probably “pray” much more often than we realize!” Fr. John says of the Servites: "The Holy Spirit has given Servites the charism/gift of compassion, community, service, and the inspiration of Mary, Mother and Servant of God, all of which are badly needed in the Church and world. We continue to make efforts to better understand our present calling in the church and world, as men (and there are Servite women, too!) who take the gospel seriously and who want to provide a witness of Christ’s presence in the world, in a way that is true to our spirit of compassion, which gives witness to the essential value of relationships and community, and which provides caring, hope-filled and joyful service to others.”

The full text of Fr. Fontana’s remarks are available in the Who we are / The Servite Community page of this website. Or, click here.


The Chicago Help Initiative Adult Learning Group
By Mickie Gordon

For our Adult Learning group to work for the people we serve it has to be very flexible. Our students all come from our Wednesday evening meal for homeless and very low income served at Catholic Charities 721 North LaSalle. We present the Adult Learning program to them as an opportunity to address issues of literacy that they identify – such getting a GED, learning to use a computer, brushing up on math skills or improving reading skills.  Not only do our guests request help for a very wide variety of skills but the skills needed to function effectively in their lives have changed over time, while many of them have not.

A simple example is the computer class – one of our most popular. The class doesn't focus on advanced skills, although students present with varying levels of experience. It focuses on basics – how to get and send information. That seems ridiculous, we all know how to do that, until you consider where you'd be if you'd skipped participating in change and learning for the last ten to fifteen years. In 2000, only about 50% of Americans were online and using the internet and only 34% of lower income households were. If you missed that big change, either because you were struggling with addiction, profound poverty, incarceration or stagnant in a job that didn't require change, you've got a significant issue keeping up now.

Our tutors are all volunteers, supported by experienced adult educators. And here is the key - what we really like about the program: regardless of the issues that our students bring, or the skill sets of our volunteers, it is the structure and the participation in community that keeps the group overflowing our available space.

Both these components, predictability and safe companionship, are often missing from the daily life experiences of our guests. And these essentials are vital to everyone's sense of well being and even more so, to our ability to change our own lives. For many of the people we serve, their lives have come adrift. We strive to be one of the many safe anchors that they will need to get back on course. Part of that can be learning to read better. But another part is connecting with others on the same positive path.

One of our volunteers shared an important story about a group she was part of, the group is mostly older women who read and discuss short stories out loud. We give small gifts to guests who stick with the programs (usually passes to an event or venue in the City for a free outing, in this case passes to Chicago 360 – a luxury if you're living day to day) and the volunteer asked several guests who had been awarded these passes if they'd gone yet. “No,” was the answer. They were waiting until the other ladies in the group were awarded their passes, so they could all go together.

Without the support of Assumption Church, both financially and with volunteers, this work would not be getting done, or not in this way, time and place. We ask that you consider volunteering as a tutor in our Adult Learning Program.  Please contact me at for more information.