Fr. Larry Zurek has loved and invested himself in pastoral work for more than half of his life. As he prepares to leave Peoria, Ill., he reflects upon his legacy and his closeness to the people of Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s, the two inner-city parishes he has served for 11 years. Larry believes two legacies of his tenure are leaving a beautiful church to worship in and a place for people to give their hearts and minds to God. On his watch he also saw to the major renovation of the parish hall.
In 30 years he has served five parishes full-time and several others with Sacramental Ministry as Pastor or Associate Pastor. “My pastoral work has been intense. There hasn’t been much time for hobbies and personal interests.” But he can look back with pleasure on one thing. “When my Mother died in 2009, I wanted to honor her by planting a garden at the Friary. One of the parishioners helped me put it together. I am not sure if it will continue to be cared for, like trimming the roses after I leave, but I hope it will.” In the early days of his priesthood, Larry enjoyed using his talent by making religious art – batiks, to be exact. Candle wax to use with the fabric work is always available. (It prevents the dye from penetrating the cloth.) The products were used for holidays and special occasions. Hopefully there will be some time in his new assignment to pick up where he left off.
Associate Pastor Fr. Luis Aponte-Merced is also leaving after 10 years there. Larry and Luis are preparing to turn the helm of their ministry over to diocesan priests. In recent decades many Catholic schools and churches have closed due to student attrition, change in population centers and budget constraints. But when the change was announced last November, Provincial Vicar Frank Jasper assured the congregation that Peoria’s current two Franciscan churches are not closing.
Both Fathers Larry and Luis will assume responsibility for the Vocational Team for St. John the Baptist Province and recruit men for the Franciscan Priesthood and Brotherhood. Although centered in Cincinnati at St. Anthony Shrine, they will go wherever applicants live for interviews and stay in daily contact with them as they make their life-changing decision. Father Larry explained, “We are very excited and are looking forward to these new challenges. We look forward to getting our feet wet. Already we have gone to planning meetings and have gone to a Vocational Conference”.