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Was Pastor Emeritus of St. Matthias on City’s North Side

Chicago, IL (May 24, 2011) – Rev. Thomas J. McHugh, pastor emeritus of St. Matthias Parish  in Chicago, died Thursday, May 19, at St. Benedict Home in Niles.  Fr. McHugh was 88 years old.  In his 44 years of active ministry, Fr. McHugh exhibited a predilection for the poor, the sick and the homeless, often going out of his way to tend to their needs.

Fr. McHugh was a native of Chicago and a graduate of Catholic elementary schools here. He graduated from Quigley Preparatory Seminary and the University of Saint Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary. He was ordained by Cardinal Stritch in 1949.  That same year, he took up his first assignment as assistant to the superintendent of St. Mary’s Training School that eventually became Maryville Academy.

From 1950 to 1951, Fr. McHugh was the assistant pastor of St. Basil Parish on the south side of Chicago, now St. Basil/Visitation Parish.  For the next year, Fr. McHugh served as assistant pastor of St. Mel/Holy Ghost Parish in Chicago, which is now closed.  He was the assistant pastor for nine years (1957-66) at Our Lady of Mercy Parish on the north side.

He served for five years as assistant pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea (1966-71) and five years in the same capacity at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on Ashland Avenue in Chicago (1971-76).  Fr. McHugh welcomed the Filipino community to Our Lady of Lourdes.  In particular, he acted as a mentor to Fr. Leoncio Santiago, newly arrived in the U.S. from the Philippines, helping him settle in. Since Fr. Santiago did not have a car, Fr. McHugh would drive him to sick calls at all hours of the day and night, even though Fr. McHugh had just been on call the previous 24 hours. “He was a self-sacrificing man,” said Fr. Santiago, who now serves as chaplain at Hines VA Hospital in Hines, IL.

Fr. McHugh was named pastor of St. Matthias Parish on the north side in 1976, and served there until his retirement 17 years later in 1993, when he was named pastor emeritus.

His care for the poor prompted him to recruit Sr. Jeanette Flaherty of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to staff a food pantry in the lower level of St. Matthias Church, where she dispensed not only food, but words of encouragement and comfort, making it her main ministry.  During his time as pastor, Fr. McHugh showed concern for both the church and school environments, while improving the parish’s finances through old-fashioned frugality and fund raisers.  He remodeled the church and teamed up with the school’s principal to enhance the school’s academic programs that lead to the school receiving a national award.

Fr. Santiago tells of two occasions when he and others were moved by Fr. McHugh’s devotion to the sick and homeless.  One was when Fr. McHugh missed a birthday celebration because he learned that the police had found a homeless man who had died alone and he refused to join the celebration until he could arrange for a proper burial.  Another was when he personally cleaned the living quarters of a sick person who had been living in squalor for some time.  According to Fr. Santiago, Fr. McHugh was strict with himself and the associate pastors about bringing communion to the sick on the first Friday of each month.

Visitation for Fr. McHugh will take place on Friday, May 27, from 3 to 9 p.m. at St. Matthias Church, 2310 West Ainslie Avenue in Chicago.  Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago, will be the main celebrant at a funeral Mass for Fr. McHugh on Saturday, May 28 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Matthias.  Interment will take place at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.  Fr. McHugh is survived by several nieces and nephews.

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