| Parishioners Recall
Accusations stun those who knew Kealy as 'top-of-the-line'
By Chris Fusco and Janet Rausa Fuller
Fresh out of seminary, the Rev. Robert Kealy was "the cool priest" at St. Germaine parish in Oak Lawn.
He drove a sports car. The kids trusted him enough to do their confessions face to face.
"You felt good listening to him because he talked normal. He was from the new school," said Gary Kostrubala, a 1978 St. Germaine graduate and former altar boy. "He was a guy you could talk to and still respect the traditions of the church."
As Kealy evolved into the Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese's chancellor and pastor of two high-profile parishes, he never lost that new-school attitude, preaching enthusiastic homilies and attending everything from women's club meetings to scouting events.
"This guy was so professional," said Andrew Fleury, a member of Highland Park's Immaculate Conception Church, where Kealy was pastor from March 1992 to June 2001.
Though he sometimes admonished people for walking into church late, "he just seemed like a top-of-the-line priest," Fleury said.
Which is what makes the news about Kealy so shocking to Fleury and others.
The 55-year-old priest resigned earlier this week as pastor of Saints Faith, Hope and Charity parish in Winnetka amid allegations that he "engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with a minor teenager" in his first job at St. Germaine in the 1970s.
While Kealy likely can't be prosecuted for the alleged crime because its statute of limitations has long since expired, the Cook County state's attorney's office is investigating because other accusations might surface.
"I heard everything, and I just can't believe it," said Yvonne Pasquesi, an Immaculate Conception parishioner since 1954. "He's personable and very intelligent. . . . He married my daughter, and he was a very good fund-raiser."
Kenneth A. Skopec, a charter member at St. Germaine, said he considers Kealy "almost a member of my family." He called him "a brilliant mind" because of Kealy's proficiency in both canon and civil law.
At St. Germaine, Kealy helped head up the teen club, organizing ski trips for its members. The priest has two brothers and a sister, all of whom Skopec has met.
"I am a firm believer that a man is innocent until proven guilty," Skopec said. "It's a nightmare with all the difficulty going on in the Catholic Church. That's what makes this so devastating."
Bernice Kostrubala, a self-described overprotective mom, called all of her five grown children Thursday to make sure they were OK.
All attended St. Germaine school during Kealy's time as an associate pastor from 1972 to 1977.
"Years ago, when I went to pick up the kids, I always thought, 'Wasn't he a kind of cool priest?' " she said. "He was attractive, friendly and very well-liked. I was just stunned."
Her daughter Sharon Kostrubala remembered the priest's sports car, a black Ford Torino.
"He was a good-looking priest," said the 1977 St. Germaine grad.
Despite their warm thoughts for Kealy, many parishioners said he deserved to be punished if the allegations against him are true.
Dawn Meiners, a parishioner at Saints Faith, Hope and Charity, said she believes the archdiocese needs to be doing more about the issue of sexual abuse in general.
"I think they don't realize the effect of this on the children," she said. "It's not about the priest, it's about the children."
Meiners admitted to having one run-in with Kealy, when he came up to her early on in his tenure and chastised her for being late to mass.
"I didn't like him from the start," she said.
Contributing: Carlos Sadovi and Frank Main.
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