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Monsignor Cummings

Monsignor Cummings, Our Golden JubilarianMonsignor Cummings, Pillar of Strength...Christ the One Foundation

Matthew Cummings was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1916. After two years of ministry at Corpus Christi parish and with the United States inching closer and closer to active involvement in the war in Europe, Fr. Cummings volunteered for service as chaplain to American troops overseas. He accompanied troops on several crossings on crowded transports and made his way to the front lines to celebrate the Sacraments with and for the wounded and dead. He counseled many soldiers suffering greatly from the merciless "trench" warfare. In 1919 Fr. Cummings was sent back state-side and relieved of his duties in the Armed Forces due to injuries sustained during a "Mustard Gas" attack in the trenches of Europe.

Monsignor Cummings during 1920Back in Chicago, he briefly served at St. Thomas the Apostle parish and was then called to teach at the new Quigley Preparatory Seminary. He served for the next six years as a professor, training young men interested in priesthood. Among the hundreds of aspirants who received Monsignor Cummings' tutelage was a young John Hayes, future priest, monsignor and pastor of Epiphany. Fr. Cummings’ duties at Quigley required him to work at Chicago's major seminary, St. Mary of the Lake in the far away village of Area, 45 miles northwest of Chicago (later named Mundelein for Cardinal Mundelein who gave the community of Area their first fire engine!). On Friday, April 2, 1926, Good Friday, Fr. Matt took a phone message for Cardinal Mundelein. "As it happened", Msgr. Cummings recalled years later, "It was I who informed Cardinal Mundelein of Fr. Madden's death. The Cardinal was staying that day at the major seminary, where I was stationed. I took the phone call and delivered the message. Not long after that the Cardinal told me that I was the new pastor of Epiphany."

Only 10 years ordained, Fr. Cummings made his way to 25th and Keeler in July 1926. Space does not permit a detailed account of Msgr. Cummings' 42 years at Epiphany but as one looks at his years of pastoral ministry and leadership it is clear that our parish was blessed with his strong, loving and loyal fidelity. He pastored Epiphany during the harsh years of the Depression, World War II, the Korean Conflict, The Civil Rights Movement, the Viet Nam War and the Second Vatican Council Msgr. Cummings began his work immediately applying his organizational and managerial skills to the service of the parish. Older parishioners may recall the "Flag Raising" ceremonies and neighborhood parades to instill both civic and parish pride and responsibility. Cummings would don his old Army uniform and invite other war veterans to do the same joining the military bands from Fort Sheridan invited to lead the parade.

Monsignor Cummings portraitFiscal stewardship and responsibility was a hallmark of Monsignor's pastorate. Seeing how well our brothers and sisters in Protestant congregations did in financially supporting their church, Cummings borrowed a page from their play book and introduced "Sunday Envelopes" to the faithful at Epiphany. When asked about this decision years later Monsignor recalled in typical fashion, "I had noticed how envelopes worked for the Protestants. We were the first Catholic church in Chicago to try them." Try them he did! Today there is not one parish in the United States that does not use the Sunday Envelope as the primary means of parish financial support, stewardship and parish membership.

Monsignor's dedication to sharing our Faith and evangelization is something to marvel at. Archdiocesan planners and our evangelization teams can learn a great deal from the example of Epiphany and Cummings’ ever present leadership. Monsignor shared the faith, evangelized and educated both young and old in the practice of our Church the old fashioned way: he pounded the pavement. Monsignor would walk the streets and visit people where they were; at bus stops, in the stores, on their home from work or school. He listened to people. He got to know them and after a level of trust and good faith was established, he would share a story of faith with them. Monsignor would tell them how much God and Jesus loved them for who they are. Monsignor John Hayes, who took over the parish after Cummings’ retirement, remembers the old pastor making his rounds in the neighborhood well into his 80th year of life and with the same energy, enthusiasm and love of God he brought to Epiphany in 1926.

Monsignor Cummings with the 1931 GraduatesPerhaps the greatest testament to Msgr. Cummings' ministry is our beautiful church. All of Monsignor's leadership skills and talents would be sorely tested in this monumental construction. He cut his teeth in the building business when the convent was erected in 1929; bought, built and paid for in one year’s time. While the actual construction of the church took only three years, the planning and preparations demanded two decades of patient attention and sacrifice for both Monsignor and parishioners alike. The Great Depression of the 1930's severely limited any real progress on the project. The War Effort of the 40's also imposed great obstacles to any major work. There was a lawsuit against the church construction because the new church required the closing of the alley between 25th Street and 25th Place at Keeler. In those days oil, coal and diary deliveries required alley access and the proposed church would hamper access to these daily necessities. This lawsuit once again delayed ground breaking on the church site.

Reverend Matthew Cummings in 1946But in 1950, with all hurdles cleared, work began. The contractor put up wooden scaffolding all around the building, outside and inside, up to the height of the roof - a lavish display of lumber. The exterior was of lannon stone from Wisconsin, the interior many-hued sandstone from the quarries of St. Meinrad's Abbey. Each block was carefully numbered and custom cut and set. On Sunday, January 25, 1953 with a full house, the first Mass was celebrated at 5:45am. The official dedication would wait until the spring with a solemn mass and dedication with Cardinal Stritch as principal celebrant on the sunny morning of May 30, 1953.

Other construction and remodeling, both small and large in scale, would occur over the next 15 years. A kindergarten was added to the school which was to be rebuilt immediately after the church was done. The rectory was ready to house the parish priests by 1960. But it was and is the church that still represents the humble greatness of Monsignor Cummings and our faithful parishioners who so generously gave to Mother Church. What follows is Monsignor's understanding of Epiphany's parish church: "This church is a monument to the faith of its builders. A church is a lighthouse. It must not hide itself. It is not a place to be discovered by chance, to be known to a few. A church must beckon. Yes, admire the new Epiphany, admire those who built it. But remember the chief thing remains to be done; that each one make good use of the church in the all essential task of gaining eternal salvation. ,,, Make it a lighthouse for those outside the faith, guiding them to the loving embrace of Christ. May all who pass this way heed the inspiration of the cross atop its towers. This parish has excelled in drawing our neighbors, non Catholic and nominal Catholics, to learn of Christ in our instruction classes. We shall continue enthusiastically in this work." After his retirement in 1968 Cummings stayed in residence at the rectory until his death. He was away from Epiphany for only a short time in 1977 during a brief hospital stay. God called him home on February 12, 1978.


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