Urges Parishioners to Give Everything to Poor : Priest Steers a Revolutionary Course

Associated Press

In preaching from the Bible, the Roman Catholic priest goes literally by the book, telling parishioners they must sell all worldly possessions and give their money to the poor.

For this literal interpretation of the Gospel, Father Michael Collins has been forced to leave three northern Illinois parishes.

"It's scary for me, but as much as I would like to tell people what they want to hear, I've got a God who tells me to tell people what they've got to hear," said the 28-year-old priest.

He now is at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Crest Hill near Joliet but has no regular congregation and no assignment, at least until June.

Until then, leaders of the Diocese of Joliet want him to write a book outlining his beliefs so they can check it against Catholic doctrine.

"Christianity means living like Christ lived, giving like Christ gave and forgiving like Christ forgave. Nothing less. Jesus didn't say 'Make a truce with me.' He said 'surrender,' " Collins declared.

He isn't ready to make a truce.

"My message is scary," he said in a recent interview. "It says when you've got nothing left but the Lord, you've got all you need."

Collins, lanky and bearded with long hair, said his message was hard for some to swallow. "The Gospel should bring comfort to the discomfortable and discomfort to the comfortable," he said.

After a stint at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Collins first attracted attention while serving as a deacon at St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Kankakee in 1984 and 1985.

His homilies shocked the congregation, he recalled.

Despite adverse reaction to his strong teachings, Collins was ordained and given a five-year assignment as an associate pastor in a Bolingbrook church he declined to name.

He lasted five months and left because of a personality conflict, he said.

His next scheduled five-year assignment was St. Ann's Catholic Church in Oswego. Among the ideas he pushed there was closing the parish for a month so the priests could fast and pray.

"There was a lot of excitement and turmoil," Collins said. "And about a year after I arrived, they asked me to leave."

Then he was assigned to the fast-growing, upper-middle-income suburb of Naperville, not far from where he grew up in Elmhurst.

"These are my people out there," he said. "I should be just like them, but the values of the suburbs are symptomatic of the deeper conflicts inside us. We cling to status and material things."

So Collins suggested Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church turn the building over to the homeless.

A letter to a local newspaper denounced him as "a zealot . . . attempting to change the character of the entire parish."

Parishioner Randy Schultz said many in the congregation thought his message was better suited for missionary work.

Some church-goers sided with Collins.

"He said things a lot of Catholics are longing to hear," Maggie Thomas said.

Yet Collins said he left Naperville because he didn't want to further divide the parish, and retreated to Crest Hill to write his book.

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