He marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., survived a brutal beating from burglars who woke him in the middle of the night in his rectory, befriended boxers and politicians alike — and swore like a sailor but was revered as “a living saint.”
The Rev. Dan Mallette, a scrappy old white Roman Catholic priest, did it all while building one of the most racially diverse parishes in Chicago.
The Rev. Mallette, who made headlines five years ago when he fought to remain in his beloved Southwest Side parish, St. Margaret of Scotland, died about 11:55 p.m. Sunday at Little Company of Mary Hospital. He was 85 years old.
“We tried like you wouldn’t believe to get him to write his story,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, a longtime friend and parishioner. “We bought him a tape recorder a few years ago and he spent an afternoon with it only to tell me later, ‘Tommy, the thing is broken,’ and I said ‘Father, there’s no tape in there!'”
Funeral services set for the Rev. Dan Mallette
Had the recording session worked, the tape might have captured the Rev. Mallette’s fear of mortal injury at the hands of his jailers after being thrown in the clink during a civil rights march in the South.
He may have told the the story about how, after being reassigned to work as a priest in New York City, he was sent back to Chicago after church hierarchy found out he was driving a taxi in order to get to know the people in his community.
“The stories just go on and on,” said Dart. “I have one that I think spoke volumes. I was wandering around Division Nine, the super max wing of the jail, just to check in on things. One guy was complaining to me the food was not so good. Another guy was complaining about legal stuff and I was ready to leave when I heard a voice yell, ‘Sheriff, how’s Father Mallette doing? Do you think he could come by and visit? Tell him I said hello.'”
“So later I tell Father that this inmate says hello, and he says ‘Tommy, he’s a good guy’ and I said, well he’s a got little murder issue going on, but I guess.’ . . . It just goes to show that he never gave up on anybody.”
The Rev. Mallette, a boxer in his youth, regularly ministered to jail inmates.
“He was an amazing person, an amazing friend of mine. He was like my best buddy,” Dart said.
The Rev. Mallette, or “Father Dan” as his congregation called him, was pastor of St. Margaret of Scotland Church for 35 years.
Maggie Sullivan first met Father Dan when she was a teenager going to St. Margaret, and began working with him in 2001 when she started teaching at the parish school.
Sullivan said the Rev. Mallette taught her “how important it is to give without expecting anything back.”
“Father Mallette would do anything for anybody,” Sullivan said. “He put countless people through school — people who are now federal judges or doing other amazing things. He would tell school kids stories of working with Dr. King and being involved in the civil rights movement, and it made history come alive for them. He was inspiring.”
The archdiocese sought to remove him from the parish in 2012 after he suffered a savage beating the previous year. Burglars had broken into the rectory on the 9800 block of South Throop where the pastor lived.
The Rev. Mallette fought Cardinal Francis George’s decision to move him from his longtime home. Supporters — including Dart and Muhammad Ali’s son-in-law Mike Joyce — rallied behind the gritty priest, arguing that he was being disrespectfully pushed into a retirement home. Meanwhile, the Rev. Mallette, waged his own public feud with his successor.
“The man is just so obnoxious,” he said of the new pastor. “What I don’t understand is why he has to be so mean . . . . He’s a genius at being a pain in the ass.”
The archdiocese insisted it was only concerned for the old priest’s safety, arguing he had to leave the parish for six months so his successor could establish himself.
“B——-,” the Rev. Mallette said at the time. He claimed George previously promised him, “You and your dog have a home here at St. Margaret’s for the rest of your life.”
“I love it here, and I love the people,” the priest said.
In October 2012, Father Dan, then 80, was honored at his last scheduled Mass at St. Margaret of Scotland Church.
In the ensuing years, parishioners set him up in housing not far from the church, most recently a ranch house in the Beverly neighborhood where he regularly held Mass for visitors until several weeks ago.
“Up until a month ago he was as sharp as can be. None of us had it on our radar screen that something bad was around the corner,” Dart said.
About three weeks ago he began having trouble breathing and was admitted to Little Company of Mary Hospital, Dart said.
“At one point there were 20 visitors in the intensive care unit,” Dart said.
It was unclear who would take over caring for his dog, Tuffy, the priest’s fifth Scottish Terrier that bore the name.
“His dog was pretty cranky. He’d occasionally bite people. I’d tell my kids ‘Just leave Tuffy alone, he can get grumpy, just like Father,” said Dart, who praised the Rev. Mallette’s informal manner and love for good-natured bouts of verbal sparring . “He was like your buddy, he gave as good as he got.”
Raised in the South Chicago neighborhood, he was ordained a priest in 1957. He was assigned to St. Agatha’s Parish in the Lawndale neighborhood, Fordham University in New York, and Visitation Parish in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and St. Norbert’s Parish in Northbrook before taking the helm at St. Margaret of Scotland.
He was appointed to the parish in 1977, just as white flight was turning the neighborhood black. His charisma and hard work kept generations of white worshippers coming back from other neighborhoods.
He personally battled alcoholism and publicly battled prejudice, poverty and violence.
The Rev. Mallette marched with King in Mississippi, Alabama and in Chicago and was jailed during the civil rights struggle.
Earl McKay was a boy attending St. Margaret’s when he first met the Rev. Mallette. When McKay got his driver’s license, he would drive the priest to visit members of the church who were sick.
“No matter who it was or where they were, he always made a point to visit them,” McKay said. “I have so many memories of this and him teaching me to always extend that hand and never give up on anybody.”
McKay later worked with the Rev. Mallette as a teacher and served as principal from 1998 to 2009. He described the priest as fearless and selfless.
“Father Mallette would find a way to reach each and every person whose path he crossed,” McKay said. “I adopted this philosophy, and I know it lives on through all the people he’s reached who went on to find success as politicians, doctors, judges, coaches, teachers — his impact will live on all over the world.”
The Rev. Mallette remained committed to the parish despite his own personal brushes with violence. The 2011 attack was not the first.
In 2002, the Rev. Mallette was attacked by two men who broke into his rectory bedroom as he slept. Then in late 2011, burglars again broke in, leaving him with black eyes and busted ribs.
But through it all, the Rev. Mallette carved out his own reputation as a fighter. Parish council chairman Pat Catania once said, “he has friction with everyone … that’s one of the reasons we all love him.”
One supporter said those who sought to remove him from his parish didn’t understand him: “I think they don’t understand a saint. He’s not a conventional priest — he’s a street priest. Maybe they’re afraid of the street?”
Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, 9830 S. Throop St., where the Rev. Mallette served as pastor for 35 years. A funeral Mass will said at 11 a.m. Saturday. Burial will be at Holy Cross Cemetery in Calumet City.