Susan Vaickauski

Susan Vaickauski has lived in Northbrook since 1975. She talks about how she was a teacher in Hawaii, and later came back to Northbrook to live with her husband. Years after having her first child, Susan recalls how her daughter wanted to go to Africa and through the church they were a part of, were…

Recorded on August 12, 2016. Length: 31 Minutes.


JH: Good afternoon and welcome to Northbrook voices and Art History Project sponsored by the Northbrook Historical Society at the Northbrook Public Library. Today is Friday, August 12 2016. My name is Judy Hughes and I’m pleased to welcome Susan Vaickauski, who’s lived and worked in the Northbrook area since 1975. Welcome Susan.

MV: Good afternoon.

JH: Susan what brought you to Northbrook?

MV: My husband worked for underwriters laboratory, and the office was downtown but they built the national office here in Northbrook, and my friend’s husband was in real estate and I said we are moving because he’s going to be working in Northbrook and our friend immediately said you want to go to school district 28 Northbrook. So we looked for a house in school district 28 and it was one of the best decisions we ever made.

JH: And so you have two daughters?

MV: Two daughters.

JH: And they went to the district 28 schools?

MV: Greenbriar Northbrook junior high and Glenbrook north.

JH: And what was your first impression of Northbrook.

MV: I had never been to a village before. I grew up in a small farm town in Indiana. So the whole Chicago area was a new experience for me. I never been in a big city, but when I came to Northbrook, I used to call it the adult disney world because I never seen such big houses. The school, the children were in classes of 14 with a teacher and a teacher’s aid that was mind boggling to me. Because I came from a Catholic school where we had 64 children in a classroom with one nun. So that was just a whole new experience.

JH: Absolutely. And then ASCO — ASCO, you — you joined the working force in the community. Where — where were you employed?

MV: Well, that’s a story in itself. What I love about Northbrook, everybody knows everybody. So at Jewel was a man named Mr. Kelly, and the day I put my second daughter in kindergarten, he said, you’re going to come work for Jewel, and he took me to the counter introduced me to a 23 year old manager who just started because they use the Jewel as a training for managers, and Mr. Kelly said to him, “This is Sue, you’re going to hire her, and she will work in the health and beauty aid”, and this poor 23 year old boy said, “Okay”. And that’s how I got my job at Jewel. Oh, and he told him, he said, “And she’s going to work mother’s hour, she’ll come in at nine she’ll leave at 2:30 and summers and holidays shall be off”, and the young man said, “Okay”, and that’s how I got my job at Jewel.

JH: That was an amazing story.

MV: Yes, Mr. Kelly was something else.

JH: Yes, he is something else, and then after that, you joined the school district.

MV: I did. It was time to be — I had started out as a teacher, my first teaching job was in Hawaii, where I met my husband, and then I moved here and we decided instead of buying a large house, we would buy a small house and I would be a stay at home mom. So I stopped teaching. But I was ready to move into a more professional environment, and my neighbor was moving she was a secretary at Westmoore, and she promised Mr. Sativus, who was the principal Westmoore she would send one person for an interview and she said to we just go interview and I said, “Why have a job?”. She said, “Well just go interview”. So I went and interviewed and Burke’s ???, sat and talked about our children and family, and finally at the end of the interview, he said, “Can you start tomorrow?”, and I said, “Well, I don’t even know how to use this computer system you have”, and he said, “I don’t care about computers, I need someone with personality, who will welcome people into this building and be a hard worker, you put points on how to use the computer system”. So the next day I started at Westmoore.

JH: That’s another amazing story, and what’s it like being in the front office at an elementary school?

MV: I loved it because you not only get to meet the children, you get to meet their parents and you learn and discover all the different things people do for the community that we don’t care about. All the little people who do all the hard work behind the scenes, and I loved that. People who work with Northbrook Days, people who do the carnivals, the schools and the fundraising so that the schools can do extra things for the children. So you learn who’s really doing all the hard labor behind the scenes.

JH: And while you were Westmoore, you took a trip with your daughter.

MV: My daughter Mariana always said she wanted to work in Africa, and between her freshman year and sophomore year of college, a nun from Nigeria came to speak at Our Lady of the brook, and I said, “You know, my daughters always wanted to go to Africa”, and they speak English in Nigeria, and so the following year, Mariana went and worked in Nigeria for summer. I mean, she helped deliver babies, it was out in the jungle area, and from safe health center, and from there, she decided to get a master’s degree in African Studies at Ohio University, and she was going back for her fourth trip working on her thesis on women in Kenya, and she said, “Mom, I want you to go”. I said, I” will go but I will not go as a tourist, we have to find something to do”. So there was a gentleman Fredeloota???, who was working with the village church here in Northbrook and he happened to be in town. So he interviewed us and invited us to work at a school he was running in Kibera slum. There’s slums, the largest African slum, and the second largest slum in the world. It is a square mile of a million people. 500,000 are under the age of 15 and 100,000 are orphans. What we call complete orphans, and because Mr. Outa grew up in the streets as an orphan boy, his school was specifically for children who were orphans, and we spent six weeks working with him, and when we came back, I said  we just can’t come back, we have to follow up and do something. At the time, Julia Haley was the superintendent of District 28, and Mariana and I happened to go here. Dick Durbin, Senator Durbin of Illinois speak about third world countries, and in his talk, he said that in the mid 1990s, a bill was passed in which our government was encouraging schools in America to adopt a school and a third world country. So I went back to Julia Haley, and I said you know what, there’s this bill, that once students in the United States to adopt students in a third world country, and I would like to start a program where the children raise money for the children in Kenya. So we put together what we called concert for Africa, and it ran for 10 years, and in that 10 years, besides providing money for school supplies, medical supplies, uniforms, books, for the school in Kibera. We raised $170,000 to build a girl’s High School, and so we built a girl’s high school which was completed and opened February of 2015. Now the government Ken –Kenya’s very corrupt, and they don’t like private schools. So they came back last year and said if you don’t dig a well for the school, we’re gonna close your gap. So this year, under some other friends who’ve taken over the organization for me, they have raised $20,000 for digging the wells that the school can reopen again, February of next year, 2017.

JH: So you started a foundation, basically.

MV: Yes.

JH: That raised this money in cooperation with district 28 and other sources that raised the money. We’ll talk about Fred a little bit and what he’s done in Kenya.

MV: Fred and so interesting. Fred’s mother died when he was three. His father died when he was in seventh grade and he lived on the streets when he was 16, American couple of a religion went to work with street boys, and Fred is very charismatic, and so they took him home and said, “We want you to live with us, and we want to put you back in school”. Well, he didn’t believe them sort of kept running away. So after he ran away several times, they sat him down and said, “Stop running away, we want you to get an education, you have so much potential.” So he finished high school, and then this couple found friends to put Fred through school here in the United States through college, and he always talks about when he first went to New York, he looked at the tall buildings and thought they were going to fall down because they were so tall, and he had never seen such tall buildings, and he couldn’t get over that you could get on the phone and order food, and someone would bring you food at the door because food is very scarce in Kenya. But while he was here, he got three degrees. One in health management, one in theology, he thought he would be a minister and I forget what his third degree was. But what he would do is every summer he would get fellow students to go to Kenya with him to start to build the school and Kibera slum, and they did a little building at a time, they started with two and a half year olds, and each year, they’d add another building and move up. The village where his parents live. He went to visit one time, and the people were so thin, you could see their bones because the government had shut down the rice farms, and the reason the rice farms were shut down is because the people wouldn’t work in the rice fields, and in the government wouldn’t pay them, so people just stopped working. This was in the mid 70s, and so the people had no form of income. So when Fred went to visit, they thought he was rich because he had a car, and they swamped him and said, “Please do something to help us”. So friend wrote a letter to the government, and he said, “If I can get the pumping station to work again, will you let me pump water into the rice field so that people can start raising rice?”. Well, they didn’t pay any attention to him when they wrote him a letter back and they said we don’t care, do whatever you want. Because the pumping station hadn’t worked since 1976, and they figured he’d never find anybody to get it to work again. So we found an old man who got the pumping station to work and he starts pumping water from Lake Victoria into the rice fields. Both in a year 2000 families, not people, 2000 families, each had two acres of land to raise rice, and it’s time for the election. 2004 the elections in 2005, and the gentleman who represents the rice farmers decides it’s time to come and campaign, and he’s driving down the road and he sees all these rice fields and he goes back to Nairobi and he goes who is pumping water into the rice fields and who gave him permission and Fred pulled out the letter said, “Do whatever you want”. The rice farmers turning on the Fred got together and said, “Why are we supporting this man who does nothing for us?” let’s put Fred in Parliament. Fred was voted in Parliament by 90% of the vote. No one has ever been elected to Parliament by 90% of the vote. So the poor people voted him into parliament. While he was in Parliament under the orange party, he helped write a new constitution, and his wife was threatened as a matter of fact, one of the planes he was riding had to do an emergency landing because someone tried to sabotage it because the new constitution did three things. Said that the girl child must be educated if you keep your girl child at home. It’s against the law. The second thing was that there will be only one court system because the Muslims and others have their own court system, their own law. The new constitution said there will only be one set of laws and one set of court system, and the third thing is did away with female circumcision, which to the village people is traditional and custom. So he had a lot of people after him who he had to hire three bodyguards. Now in 2016, the other thing in the constitution did is decided that there will be two houses, they want a government more like the United States, so they have a house of parliament. This year, they’re going for the first time to vote in for a Senate. So the people have asked Fred to run and be their first senator for this new house that will open in 2017.

JH: He’s quite an interesting man.

MV: Someone you should interview.

JH: Absolutely. You know the next time Fred comes this way, we will do that.

MV: I will get him prepared.

JH: Good, and this and the other things that you’ve done in your life. You mentioned that you were a member of Our Lady of the brook, and you were active there.

MV: For 41 years. I did — I did community ministry but in the 70s I helped father Hearn, train people to do hospital work to come into the hospital visit the sick, I taught them what we call listening skills. I ran confirmation program for a while plus some CD, wrote a welcome home program that actually the Archdiocese adopted and I work with Father Pat running down in the office of evangelization for three years, because of the program I wrote. Did it all. Friedman, I worked with people who have had someone die, helped them with funerals, served at funerals.

JH: Do you work with hospice care at all?

MV: No.

JH: With your I wasn’t sure if you work with the people in hospice care through your church is so your life has this year taken a different turn.

MV: It has. All my life I felt called to priesthood when I was very young, and I remember I asked Christ be a server with the boys and of course you couldn’t only boys could serve. So there was a nun in seventh and eighth grade who said, I’m going to teach you to lay out the priests vestments, and prepare everything for mass the next morning. So every day after school in seventh and eighth grade, I would go over, lay out the priests vestments, and the chalices and everything and get everything set up for maps now. We’re popping the 50s and 60s. In the 50s and 60s, there’s a communion rail that separates the people from the sanctuary. Women were not allowed to cross that line. Women were not allowed in the sanctuary, and here I was a young girl setting up the altar. So I did that for two years. Then — this desire grew, and when I was at Purdue, a priest by the name of father Bernardcooking, he was a Vatican two priests, and he introduced a new term to the church called priesthood of the laity, and he talked about how we were all baptized into the priesthood through baptism, and when he talked, I just decided been in there my whole life would be dedicated to helping my people be educated, understand and live as fully as possible. They’re called priesthood. Over the years, the desire to be a priest got stronger. I wrote a letter to Cardinal Bernadine, which I didn’t get an answer. I also wrote a letter to Cardinal George, and we were at a meeting of about 300 lay people for training, and he read my letter, and I was so surprised because he looked out into the audience and he said, “Whoever you are, go get as much education as you can”. He, did not get any negative reaction to my letter. I talked about the pain, the pain of wanting to be a priest and not being allowed, and I think was his way of saying don’t give up hope. I found out after he died, that he had written a letter to Pope Benedict, asking that women be allowed to be permanent deacons. But because Benedict had medical issues, and we got a new pope, the letter got lost in the transition between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. Now they’re going to address that issue. But in the meantime, I became so overwhelmed with this desire to be preached, I couldn’t eat, I lost weight, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t function, people would come up and say “What is wrong with you?”, and how do you tell people why think I’m supposed to be a priest, and I think that was the hardest part not having someone to talk to. So I contacted a group called Roman Catholic women priest.

JH: Now how did you learn about them?

MV: I learned about them because my husband likes to cruise, and we were in Quebec and we were going to take a cruise from Quebec to Boston, and our — the morning of the cruise they send out a newsletter and it said today on the St. Lawrence Seaway, “This organization is ordaining seven women is priest, the first woman to be ordained in North America”, and I’m going I have never heard of such thing, and that’s all I could think about on the cruise. Where’s this little ship for these women? How do I find them? What happened in 2002? A small group of women and some male Catholic Bishops said it’s time for women to be ordained. So they quietly ordained these women on the boat on the Danube or called the Danube seven and the Vatican found out what was going on, and so — that these bishops wouldn’t get excommunicated although one of them did, the one from Argentina. They drove two the women into the mountains, or Damon bishops and said, “Now you have the succession with Peter, go out and continue to ordain women, you have a succession”. Today in 2016, there are 225 ordained women. Some are bishops, some are priests, and there’s probably about right now — 30 people inquiring. So June 11, 2016, they ordained a Roman Catholic woman priest here at Northbrook United Methodist Church, and Melissa Burly welcomed us, and there were over 200 people. People were standing in the back of the church, and I wrote a letter to Archbishop Supitch, introducing myself, and explaining why to do what I did, and he wrote back and said that he will keep me in this purse.

JH: So is there a formal excommunication? Or just how does it change your membership as part of a parish?

MV: Pope Benedict, that a across the board excommunication of anyone who attempts to ordain or who attempts to be ordained. Some of the bishops like Cardinal Burke of St. Louis would send a formal excommunication. Bishops aren’t doing that anymore, they’re just kind of not saying anything or doing anything. Although my pastor was instructed to write a letter and tell me that I could no longer go to Communion, and I can no longer hold roles of leadership within the church. So I really don’t go to Mass in Northbrook because it’s too hot of an issue right now, but my husband and I go to Mass every Sunday, a cold family and Inverness and the people — they’re very welcoming. But he even asked me to administer communion last week when Archbishop Supitch was there, and I said, “No, I don’t think that would be appropriate, I’m not even supposed to be going to Communion”. So they backed off, but they did — they sat me in the front pew so Supitch could see me and they invited me to do communion. I sat in the front, pew, but I did not go up and distribute communion. It’s going to take time, the way I looked at my location, I believe, is to get people used to seeing women preside and do priestly roles. Because it’s so foreign, especially to Catholics, they’re uncomfortable with it. Once people get used to seeing women do these things, then the conversation could go forward. But until people get comfortable with the conversation can’t go forward.

JH: Are members of the church hearing in churches here in town, or Catholics who say this congregation in Inverness has been very welcoming to you, but are is there some red reticence on the part of Catholics to attend one of your masses for fear that it might excommunicate them?

MV: Yeah.

JH: What would be the repercussion of doing them. Would they be told they can’t go to Communion?

MV: So, you know, and some people don’t care. They come. When I said my first mass, we had 50 people. So let’s see where it goes. As you know, in this historical right now, Our Lady the birth has not had a priest for three years, like people have been running it with the help of father Bob, Father Bob got cancer knowing and father Dan, but they are combining the two parishes. We are now called the Catholic community of Northbrook. So in a way Our Lady of the book has lost his unique identity, which was more liberal, more open to this type of thing. So that’s where part of the confusion is.

JH: And so you are no longer in any leadership roles at all with Our Lady of the book?

MV: No.

JH: After 41 years.

MV: After 41 years, and I — in order not to stir the pot, I don’t really go there because one incident did happen. Every Tuesday morning, between six and 6:30. In the morning, I open up on my data book, we gather bread for a week, and then we divide it and take it to shelters, and I’ve done this for years. There’s a group of us were called the breadmen cake, and someone called father Bob and said, “You know, Sue Vaickauski is in the building”, and he goes, “Well, what is she doing in the building? Is she doing something bad”, and they say, “Well no she collects bread and helps get it ready for the shelter’s” and father Bob said, “Well, she’s doing something good then right?”, “Yeah”,  “Okay”. That was the end of it. But to be called for doing that, you know, I said, you know, I need to stand back, take a deep breath and let people get used to this.

JH: So what do you see is the future of your building congregation you said they were 50 people at your first mass?

MV: Yes. If the clothes Our Lady of the book, our clothes are five o’clock mass I’d see, a few people will come come to us. My friend and I — I’ve already had people come and ask me for spiritual direction. They said “I could go to father but father is so busy, and you’re a priest, so I’m coming to you”. I had a complete stranger call this week. She is in hospice, and she said, “I want a woman priest because of the article in the newspaper I read about you. I want you to help me write my funeral liturgy and walk with me through the life stages of my life”. So who knows where it’ll go? You just let God be in charge, and it just happens.

JH: And you do mass? Where are you? Where you’re saying mass now?

MV: Yes. Church where ??? Northbrook, United Methodist Church, we’re working out a contract where I will say mass every third Saturday of the month at 5pm with my friend Kathy, the two of us.

JH: So she is a recently ordained.

MV: She was ordained last week. Supitch doesn’t know this. We’ve had five ordinations in Chicago this year. He only knows about mine. I’m the only one who wrote to it, but it’s happening. It’s snowballing. It really is. It’s happening faster than they realize.

JH: And your mass is open to anyone.

MV: Our masses open to anyone and what people like is everyone’s invited to Communion. I have a friend who has gone faithfully every week to match with his wife, but he’s not Catholic. He really was not raised within any religion, and he’s been coming to my masses, because he said, “I can come to communion”, and now he’s trying to get his wife to come with him. So people who’ve been married and divorced or who are gay or for whatever reason have been told they can’t have communion are coming to us because they’re welcome. We don’t ask questions.

JH: So you have a very interesting life and your pathway that God has showed you — showing you leads to a new, interesting future.

MV: It’s exciting because you don’t know what lies ahead.

JH: Our interviews talked for 30 minutes, is there anything else you’d want to add?

MV: Well, just that my family and I love Northbrook. It’s — Northbrook is a family., it’s a second family, and everybody takes care of everybody and they’re there for you and they support you, and I couldn’t ask for a better place to live, and I have a daughter who’s getting divorced and she said “I want to move back to Northbrook that’s my home”, and already for children to the village green and Northbrook Days in the swimming pools and schools already feel like they’re home now. This is home for them. It’s a great place to live.

JH: Thank you so much for participating in Northbrook voices, your memories of your life in Northbrook and the story of the new pathway you’re taking, certainly at a unique and personal perspective about the history of our village. Thank you.

MV: Thank you.