By Bill Britt

For the Sentinel

CHICAGO - John Vlazny spent his formative years here - growing up, then in the priesthood, then as auxiliary bishop under the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

He grew up in a working-class neighborhood on this city's south side. He served as pastor at St. Aloysius Parish here, whose Spanish-speaking members came mostly from Puerto Rico, as well as Mexico and Guatemala. He served as rector of Niles College Seminary, 1981-83.

When he was chosen to be auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983, two of his three fellow ordinands were Bishop Wilton Gregory, the first African-American auxiliary bishop here, and Bishop Placido Rodriguez, the first Hispanic auxiliary bishop. Bishop Vlazny served as episcopal vicar for Lake County and Northwestern Suburban Cook County.

While serving as episcopal vicar, he worked closely with the Office of the Hispanic Apostolate. He participated in several caucuses that addressed the variety of needs in ministering to Hispanics in the archdiocese.

'We need to have more clearly defined and identifiable places in Lake County where Hispanics know they can go for all their ministerial needs,' Bishop Vlazny told the New World, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

'Because we are so understaffed in terms of ordained priests able to serve Hispanics, we also have to develop lay ministers at all parishes who can rely on the ordained ministers at nearby 'central parishes' for assistance.'

When Pope John Paul appointed Bishop Vlazny to head the diocese of Winona, Minn., in 1987, Cardinal Bernardin wrote of the auxiliary bishop he had selected only a few years before.

'As parish priest, seminary rector and, for the past three and a half years, episcopal vicar, he has touched the lives of thousands of people. I am particularly grateful for all he has done to assist me with my own ministry as the bishop of this local church. His understanding, cooperation, and friendship have been a treasured gift to me personally. We will all miss him greatly.'

The sentiment was mutual: 'My three and one-half years as auxiliary bishop of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin have been a privileged and grace-filled opportunity. Nobody pastors better than Chicago's Brother Joseph!' Bishop Vlazny wrote.

As he begins the next stage of his ministry, moving from Winona to Portland, Archbishop Vlazny receives kind words from another Chicago native who was Archbishop of Portland. 'It is a source of great personal satisfaction and an occasion of joy for Chicago and Portland that the Holy Father has appointed Bishop John Vlazny of Winona, Minn., to succeed me as Archbishop of Portland,' wrote Archbishop Francis George, who became Archbishop of Chicago last spring.

'Bishop Vlazny, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, served marvelously here as a pastor, seminary rector, and auxiliary bishop. His deep spirituality, fluency in Spanish, and theological acumen will be of great service to the Archdiocese of Portland and to all the people of Western Oregon.'

Retired Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Lyne, who was ordained the same December day in 1961 as Bishop Vlazny, said, 'We go back a long way. You're getting an outstanding man. He's a very bright man. I think you will find him a very kind and understanding man.'

John George Vlazny was born Feb. 22, 1937, in Chicago and attended St. Gall elementary school.

He later studied at Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago and in 1958 received a bachelor of arts degree at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.

He continued his studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a bachelor's degree in theology in 1960 and a theology licentiate in 1962. Later, he also earned master's degrees in the classics from the University of Michigan and in education from Loyola University in Chicago.

While in Chicago, he was on the faculty of Quigley Preparatory North, which later merged into Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, during this same period. From 1969 to 1979, he was dean of studies at Quigley North.

He was president of Chicago's Presbyteral Senate, 1976-77. He also was a diocesan consultor and member of the Diocesan Clergy Personnel Board.

When he left his post as rector of Niles College Seminary in 1983 to become auxiliary bishop of Chicago, students were noticeably upset by the news.

'He gave me a different perspective of priesthood,' a seminarian said at the time. 'Before I had just seen priests in the parish. But now I also see priests as administrators and leaders of a larger community, as people who are more involved in decision making.'

Father Robert McLaughlin, pastor of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, succeeded him as rector of the seminary.

'John Vlazny is a hardworking, competent man with tremendous integrity,' Father McLaughlin says. 'He is a man who follows his conviction even if it goes against the grain.

'John's style is that of a highly intelligent man who loves the church and Christ. We have been friends for years and I know that friendship will continue. I know the people of Portland will be touched by this wonderful man.'

Upon his consecration as auxiliary bishop in Chicago, Bishop Vlazny wrote in the New World that 'care, concern and effective leadership' are essential components for his new position.

'The commitment to continued spiritual growth and renewal will be a clearly perceived and credible priority in an increasing number of our parish families,' he wrote. 'Every good pastor, particularly bishops, will need to give evident witness to this value in his personal life.'

Despite his administrative abilities, he's able to view his post with a touch of irony: 'Being a bishop is like being a grandparent,' he said.

'When you come into a parish for a confirmation or other liturgical function, it is fun and everyone is nice to you, and then you go away and leave the pastor with all the problems.'