CHICAGO (CBS) — News that the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has asked controversial pastor Rev. Michael Pfleger to leave St. Sabina Church to head up Leo Catholic High School came as a surprise to both communities.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reported exclusively on Tuesday, the archdiocese has asked Pfleger to leave the church he’s led for nearly 30 years to help turn around Leo High School, which is suffering from declining enrollment.
Although families at Leo High School said they’d love to have Pfleger there, they were surprised to find out Pfleger had been offered the job. So were parishioners at St. Sabina, where he’s been since 1981.
Andre Esther said, “My son, my grandson come outside with nothing to worry about because of him, because of this church, what he’s doing over here.”
In the community, the CBS 2 report that Cardinal Francis George wanted Pfleger to leave St. Sabina for the presidency of Leo High school was met with disbelief.
“Why would you move him?” Esther asked.
One reason could be that Pfleger has already served at St. Sabina far longer than the archdiocese limit of two 6-year terms at a single parish.
Cardinal George would say only that discussions about priests moving go on all the time.
Pfleger wouldn’t talk about conversations he admitted were ongoing, but he said it’s fair to say he wants to stay.
“I love what I do here. I love being pastor at St. Sabina,” Pfleger said. “There’s nothing in the world I’d rather do than be pastor at St. Sabina and I’m very happy here right now.
Sources said that Pfleger’s new assignment would be taking over once-thriving Leo High School, which has seen enrollment drop to just 175 students, but has been on the way back recently.
Current Leo High School President Daniel McGrath said, “In the fall, we’re going to have the largest freshman class we’ve had in about 12 years.”
But McGrath said he’d welcome Pfleger, a man whose impact on the community is undeniable.
“I think there’s a lot of similarities; at least some similarities between what Father Pfleger is doing and we’re doing,” McGrath said. “So, we probably could be able to work together.”
Pfleger has been a part of the St. Sabina parish for three decades. The last time Cardinal George suggested his days there were numbered, there was a community uproar.
People at St. Sabina still seem to feel the same way.
“This is where he belongs. He brought this neighborhood out,” Parishioner Edward Nephew said.
Pfleger already has a parish grade school at St. Sabina, but he’s never been a full-time educator.
His real love has always been preaching, with a style and substance that’s won him a devoted following and made St. Sabina a rare inner-city success story. It’s an African American Catholic parish that’s full every Sunday and needs no help from downtown.