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A joyful service with a few solemn moments marked the 50th anniversary of Father Robert Oldershaw’s priesthood. St. Nicholas Church, Father Oldershaw’s parish for about two decades, was packed, with the spillovers standing in the front and the rear of the church for a two-hour mass conducted in both English and Spanish.
Born in Evanston, Father Oldershaw came to St. Nicholas Parish in 1988. When Ascension Church on Ashland Avenue closed, the mainly Hispanic congregation merged with St. Nicholas. Father Oldershaw made two trips to the towns in Mexico from where most of his new parishioners had come – to learn about their culture and to learn their language, one church member told the RoundTable.
“Thank you for being a sanctuary for me – for opening the sacred ground of your lives to me,” Father Oldershaw said to the crowd that included Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Second Baptist Church pastor Mark Dennis, Police Chief Richard Eddington, retired Police Chief Frank Kaminski, retired Mayor Lorraine Morton, and police chaplains Kate Guistoliese and Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein. The Congresswoman thanked Fr. Oldershaw for his support for the poor and “for all you have done. You reached out to every community.”
The community of Evanston has changed during Father Oldershaw’s time. “My mother used to delight in the fact that her vote cancelled out my father’s Republican vote,” he told the RoundTable. He said he sees change and leadership going in the right direction. “We had a great mayor in Lorraine Morton. She stepped down and passed on the reins. … The parish has really begun to take a leadership role,” he said.
“There is increased diversity here,” said Father Oldershaw, who coined the phrase “drive-by diversity” several years ago, suggesting only lip-service commitment to accepting multiculturalism. He now says, “More people are stepping up to the plate. … Standing on Ridge Avenue [in the April 27 Stand Against Racism] – these are beginnings.”
Although he retired from St. Nick’s in 2006, Father Oldershaw remains a vital member of the Evanston and the faith communities. He continues his work with the Evanston Police Department’s clergy team, which includes representatives from most faith communities in Evanston, and with Solidarity Bridge, a not-for-profit organization that provides medical supplies and training to Bolivia. Retirement was “more like a lateral arabesque,” said Father Oldershaw. “Man, there is so much to do.”
The mass ended with dancing and singing as Father Oldershaw, parishioners and friends made their way from the church past a brass band and a reception line of girls in brightly colored Mexican dress and into Pope John XXIII School for refreshments.