In more than 35 years as a Vincentian priest, Fr. Joe Williams, C.M., has done a bit of everything. Currently pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Chicago, the Kansas native has spent a significant portion of that time as a pastor and associate pastor in places like southern Missouri, St. Louis, and in the mountains of Colorado.
He also served as a hospital chaplain in Pueblo, CO, and was Assistant Provincial for the Congregation of the Mission Western Province for seven years just prior to his current assignment, which also includes being superior of the DePaul Vincentian Residence. He spent a few years in campus Catholic ministry at DePaul University and began his career teaching at St. Vincent de Paul High School Seminary in Lemont, IL.
“My first assignment after I was ordained was probably my favorite place, emotionally speaking,” Fr. Joe said.
He explained that he had an opportunity early on to help some young people who were going through a very difficult time in their lives.
“Fr. Frank Gaydos (C.M.) and Fr. Paul Golden (C.M.) were there and really helped me,” he said. “It was the hardest thing and the best thing, a lowlight and a highlight in my career.”
Fr. Joe started as Pastor at St. Vincent’s in Chicago in August 2021 with the pandemic very much in full swing, and though the Covid restrictions have eased, attendance has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, something Fr. Joe fears is the new normal. Additionally, the surrounding neighborhood has changed over time from older and working-class to younger and professional. Fr. Joe says part of the job is engagement and outreach to the parish population as it is with social media, events, and other things.
“It doesn’t change the way I do my work,” Fr. Joe said. “We look for ways to bring people together. There is a lot of challenge but also some really wonderful opportunities.”
As a Vincentian parish, he says, another vital component is outreach to the poor and abandoned. The parish has maintained a food pantry, soup kitchen, and other programs, and Fr. Joe said he thinks there are opportunities for collaboration and doing even more.
“I do think it is important for me as pastor to make sure people who come to church here have an opportunity to serve the poor in some fashion,” Fr. Joe said. “We collect different categories of goods each month. That’s one way our community can stay engaged in service.”
Fr. Joe says he feels parishioners are used to him now and he is happy to be there and committed to the parish. Looking back, he can say the same about every stop in his journey.
“I have loved every job I’ve had in a different way,” he said. “I’ve been very happy in all of my assignments.”