By Kristen Hannum

Of the Sentinel

MOUNT PROSPECT, Ill. - Marion Carroll, Archbishop John Vlazny's younger sister, wasn't surprised when he decided to go to seminary high school, back when she was a fourth-grader and he was graduating from eighth.

'More awed than surprised,' she says.

After all, this was the brother who played priest with her. A boy ahead of his time (or perhaps pressed by circumstance), he allowed Marion to be his altar server.

They also made an altar to Mary each May.

Although the archbishop's older sister, Marcie, is years older than Marion, the three siblings all played together. Marion says that Marcie sometimes felt like a second loving mother in the home.

The archbishop keeps in close contact with his nephews and sisters, and carries on their father's legacy of hard work and love of family.

'As a family, we're always together,' says Marion.

The archbishop celebrated his 60th birthday this year, with his grand-niece, Meghan, who also has a February birthday.

On Christmas Day, as Marion's sons were growing up, they would always wait here in this Chicago suburb for for their uncle to arrive before they opened their presents. That tradition continued until Archbishop Vlazny told them not to wait, because the trip from Winona had delayed him too many times.

The archbishop baptized and gave first communion to all his nephews, confirmed the youngest of the three, married both his wedded nephews, and baptized his grand-nephew and grand-niece. Marion thinks that the tradition will continue.

'I don't think he'll stop being a family man once he becomes archbishop,' she says.

In fact, Archbishop Vlazny has reassured his family that the flight from Portland to Chicago, about three and a half hours, actually is faster than the drive from Winona.

Rosaries and snowmen

Marion remembers their father, who died when she was 14, as a religious man who impressed upon his children the importance of the church in their lives.

Life was as safe and predictable as the seasons for the Vlazny children: September brought a return to their parochial school, St. Gall; October meant the family prayed the rosary together; November might bring the first snows to make into snowmen and to shovel away from the garage of their brick bungalow in a blue-collar neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.

Marion remembers her brother as being a good altar boy who took church seriously and yet was fun-loving. He was hardworking as well: 'He always got 'A's, while I got 'B's,' she says.

The new Portland archbishop's favorite childhood memory is that of the regular family outings that the Vlaznys took on Wednesdays, his father's day off from his pharmacy.

Those drives were especially cherished because of the long hours that John Vlazny senior worked.

During the time that he owned a pharmacy, Marcie remembers that their dad often worked 14-hour days, coming home only to share dinner with his family before returning to work. He often had time, though, to take his children to daily Mass.

'Stay for dinner'

Their mother, Marie Hattie Brezina Vlazny, spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

Marie baked Bohemian treats familiar to both sets of grandparents, who had come from the area that is now part of the Czech Republic. These favorites included kolacky, or cream-cheese cookies with prune or poppy seed fillings, and houska, a sweet bread with raisins.

She served roast pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings for special dinners. A daily fare was soup with her homemade noodles.

'It was a busy place,' Marion says.

'My dad was always one to say, 'Stay for dinner,' ' Marcie recalls.

That invitation was commonly extended to their pastor, Msgr. James Hishen, a man who was close to the family and a strong influence on the children.

The Vlaznys' extended family visited often, and one cousin even lived with them for a time. In return, they often traveled to Michigan in the summers to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins there.

Marie was John Vlazny senior's second wife. His first wife, Marie's sister, died when the archbishop's older sister Marcie was 13.

Their grandparents on both their mothers' and father's side didn't speak much English, and Czech was the language for much conversation during visits.

Gifts and kindnesses

Archbishop Vlazny's parents both supported his decision to become a priest.

'My dad was proud of his family,' Marcie says.

She remembers him telling all three children to stand tall and be proud of who they are.

Archbishop Vlazny, at 18, had just entered the seminary when John Vlazny senior died of cancer. The cancer was an aggressive type that had spread quickly. Even so, Marion says, he had seen it coming. He'd already sold his drugstore and made investments that supported the family after he died.

Their mother lived to be 86; Marcie took care of her in her last years.

Both sisters see qualities of their father in Archbishop Vlazny. He's a generous and intelligent man, as was our dad, says Marion 'We got gifts and kindnesses when we weren't expecting them.'

The sisters also describe the archbishop as a happy person.

'He always sees the good side of things. If you're down, he'll pick you up,' Marion says.

He's also a man who can keep a secret. When the pope chooses a bishop, it is the Vatican's prerogative to announce the appointment. The appointee is not supposed to share the good news with anyone.

It was Marion's husband, Dennis Carroll, who heard on the radio that then-Father Vlazny had been appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago in 1983. Dennis called Marion, who called her mother and Marcie.

Because the family is so close, it was a mixed blessing when Bishop Vlazny became head of the Diocese of Winona. Winona is five hours from here, and Archbishop Vlazny regretted not being able to see his nephews more often after his appointment. The Carrolls, however, took to traveling to Wisconsin for their summer vacations.

Oregon visits

Now, perhaps, Oregon will get their tourist dollars.

Both Marion and her husband, Dennis Carroll, a finance analyst with Coca-Cola, plan to attend the archbishop's installation Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland on Dec. 19, as does Marcie Vlazny.

In addition, Archbishop Vlazny's nephew, Michael, 30, who works in the service department for Coca-Cola, will be in St. Mary's pews for the Mass. Nephew Matthew, 29, a sales manager for Yellow Pages producer Dontech, and his wife, Kelly, a teacher, also will attend. Meghan, 22 months, and Ryan, almost 9 months, will stay with Kelly's parents.

The archbishop's youngest nephew, Stephen, 25, a computer analyst with Hewitt Associates, will attend, although his wife, Jenny, a first-year teacher, cannot.

Marion had no problem getting the day off from St. Emily School, where she has taught for more than two decades. Her second-graders and their parents are properly impressed with their teacher's big brother.

'I'm so happy for him,' says Marion. 'I'm really elated.'